Archive for the ‘media’ category

For a Good Time In Cambridge — Hendrik Hertzberg/Ta-Nehisi Coates Edition (reminder)

October 29, 2013

Hey, all you Greater-Boston folk, a reminder:

Tonight at 7 at MIT, Ta-Nehisi Coates will talk to Hendrik Hertzberg about the state of opinion journalism…

Lesser_Ury_Im_Cafe_Bauer_1898

and the related matter of the debased (my word) state of American politics.

Location:  32-123, which translated out of MIT-speak, denotes the big first floor lecture hall in the Gehry-designed building known as the Stata Ctr., located at the corner of campus where Vassar St. hits Main. See this interactive map for details.

Ta-Nehisi, as most here know, is a blogger and senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly, writing about race, culture, politics, history, hip-hop, e-gaming, French language studies and anything else that comes to his notice.  Winner of the National Magazine Award for his essay “Fear of a Black President” he is also, to my great pleasure, my colleague in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program.  Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer at The New Yorker led the New Republic won three NMAs, while taking home the hardware (is there any?) for his solo commentary at the home of the monocle and the top hat.  As I noted the first time I plugged this event, “he is one of those writers on whose work other writers take notes.  He takes writing very, very seriously — talking to one of Ta-Nehisi’s classes yesterday he let them know that the craft isn’t just hard for beginners, that he still sweats and agonizes over getting right with every single piece he publishes.

In other words — whether you want to know about the craft or the content of major-league political analysis, this should be a fun evening.

For those of you who cannot make your way to 02139 tonight, we will be recording the event, and though it may take a little bit, we’ll get the video up in reasonably short order.  I’ll let y’all know when and as that happens.

Image:  Lesser Ury, In the Cafe Bauer,  1898

Least Surprising News Ever, Media Edition

September 11, 2013

Via  Peter Lauria at Buzzfeed, Tina Brown and the Daily Beast are parting ways:

According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, The Daily Beast parent company IAC, owned by media mogul Barry Diller, does not plan to renew [Tina] Brown’s contract when it expires in January.

What might be driving this (not very) unexpected news?  The obvious, as reported in The Atlantic Wire:

At the end of August, AdWeek said The Daily Beast was on track to lose $12 million this year in a report that strongly foreshadowed today’s news….as AdWeek put it, Diller’s “goodwill may be running out.” Diller lost a fortune when IAC bought Newsweek, merged it with the Beast, and then sold it off again. He recently admitted that buying the newsweekly was a “mistake.”

Henri_Rousseau_-_The_Merry_Jesters

I’ve met Barry Diller all of exactly once, making a presentation to him for a very ill-starred media venture sponsored by another mogul.  He was polite beyond his reputation, perfectly attentive to a project in which he had no interest, and left me with just one impression:  not a man for whom you’d like to lose a pile of bucks.

One thing though — given the record of Tina Brown’s Beast before Diller bought it — what the hell did he expect?  Someday I may rouse myself to write at my usual logorrheaic length about how the failure of the Beast/Newsweek experiment — truly the least surprising possible outcome of that endeavor — is another demonstration (if any were needed) that elite media grasp of modern audiences and the shifting ownership of cultural capital falls somewhere between disastrous and catastrophic.  But today’s not that day (I hear you saying “for which the FSM make us truly grateful” — yah bastids).

But as long as you’re sticking around: one more thing.  My standard first half of a title on a Megan McArdle post is “MM is always wrong part (n).  And that’s true, of course, when it comes to matters pollitical, economic, intellectual, culinary, and pretty much anything to do with the actual stuff of what she writes.  But I have to concede that she has not-terrible career judgment.  I thought she was making a profoundly dumb move when she left the Atlantic for the Beast (unless she was pushed, which would make Tina the more of a sap for offering a damaged brand a soft landing).  But even if it was purely an error for MM to bail on The Atlantic, she was on top of her game when she abandoned the good ship Beast for her current Bloomberg News gig – as I kind of wondered in this post :*

I’m wondering if McArdle’s finely honed survival skills are in play, in which case we may be getting a leading indicator on the prospects for our Beastly friends.

Bye, bye, Tina. You’ll not be missed, but please go away.

*Andrew Sullivan’s turn to self-publishing doesn’t look that bad a move either, even if he hasn’t yet met his numbers.

Image:  Henri Rousseau, The Merry Jesters 1906.

Not Quite Getting It…Or the Perils of Village Life

April 25, 2013

I usually think well of Garance Franke-Ruta’s work over at The Atlantic, so what follows isn’t so much a “pox-upon-her-house” screed as it is a cautionary tale.

Vice President Joe Biden came to my patch yesterday,  MIT, to play his familiar role as consoler-in-chief at the memorial service for Sean Collier, the MIT police officer murdered last week.

Édouard_Manet_-_The_Funeral

His speech was vintage Joe, powerful, direct, colored by emotion expressed bluntly, clearly, without (seeming)* artifice.  It was aimed carefully — if you actually listened –  towards at least two audiences: not just the sea of police and students spread out before him, but also the Republican party, and the American people beyond.

That’s what Franke-Ruta missed as she chased a tired meme.  Hers is the artless Joe, who genuinely, if perhaps a little embarassingly, is all raw heat, no reflection — the administration’s “id” as her headline would have it.  The comparison to be drawn is obvious, and Franke-Ruta does so in her first sentence:  Joe’s the man with real-people responses, which  his boss, the President is too cool (read, not quite human) to deliver.  From there, her analysis dives even deeper into conventional wisdom:

Today’s example was Biden unleashing a stream of wholly warranted invective at the Boston Marathon bombers. Speaking at memorial services for slain M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier, he called bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev “two twisted, perverted, cowardly knock-off jihadis.”…

Some asserted he was insensitively diminishing the attack by calling the attackers “knock-off.” But there was no question that in repeatedly calling the suspects “perverted jihadis,” Biden was once again taking on his designated role as senior administration official who gets to sling it.

Fortunately, Franke-Ruta posted a video of part of Biden’s speech, so her readers could check her exegesis.  Listen, and you’ll certainly hear Biden excoriate the Tsarnaevs.  But the guts of his argument are to be found in what Biden said next, about the right — and wrong — ways to respond to the acts of terrorists, hard core or mere knock-offs:

The truth is on every frontier, terrorism as a weapon is losing…and what galls them the most is that America does remain that shining city on a hill. We are a symbol of the hopes and the dreams, the aspirations of people all around the world…our very existence makes the lie of their perverted ideology.

So the only way they can gain ground is to instill fear that causes us to jettison our values, our way of life, for us to change.  The moment we change, the moment we look inward, the moment we get in a crouch and are defensive, that’s the moment they win. What makes me so proud of this great state, and the city of Boston and Cambridge and all those involved and the students on this campus, what makes me so proud to be an American is that we have not yielded to our fears; we have not compromised our values, we have not weakened our constitutional guarantees. We have not closed our borders.

I can surely argue that some of that is more aspirational than hard fact.  Post-9/11 and continuing into this decade, we have yielded some guarantees.  We have allowed our fears to legitimize laws like the Patriot Act, to allow torturers to thrive in our dark rooms, to sink to force feeding prisoners starving themselves to escape the legal purgatory that incarcerates without providing any avenue for either exoneration or certain punishment.

But Biden did limn a present realit as well, in that we still live in a country where a ruling like Hamdan v. Rumsfeld can be both heard and decided against the government.  I live in a town where  police officers tackled a cop-killer in the midst of a gun battle, in the hopes of keeping him alive long enough to face a court.  Here in Boston, Dzokhar Tsarnaev was charged as a common criminal, read his rights (not fast enough for some, but still) and will in fact face civilian charges.  This country are so far from perfect it sometimes feels like we’re can only approachperfection  the long way round — but that’s in the nature of cities on hills.  I’m pretty sure Joe had something like this in mind when he spoke yesterday.

And I have next to no doubt at all that he was scolding that claque of Republican leaders who seem to have lost all courage, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and all the rest.  They’ve been up on their hind legs since Friday,  bellowing the urgency of making sure Tsarnaev face  a jury-rigged military tribunal system, and damned be the American constitutional system and any faith in the power of a jury of Americans to do and be seen to have done justice.

That rebuke is what this speech was about, beyond the pure duty of comfort that Biden handled so well in the first, longer section of his remarks.  He was telling a failed Republican party that America is something other than hollow republic the Bush-Cheney regime sought to build.  He was as well talking to the broader audience through the TV set, making the case (again!) that there is an alternative to a government based on authority granted out of fear.  He was reminding everyone in earshot that the way the Republicans ran the republic — and would do again, if they get the chance — is not just an error; it’s un-American.  This was powerful stuff, and inside the political ring, it was had the power to hurt, a nut-cutting blow.

That is to say:  who cares if Biden used the phrase “knock-off,” or uttered in public the word “perverted?”  Franke-Ruta’s gnawing away on those old bones is a failure of reportorial nose, a misjudgment that obscured the real story right in front of her.

As I said at the top of this post, I don’t think Franke-Ruta’s a bad journalist, not at all. So I take her whiff as an indication of what it costs when you live inside a thought/media/opinion bubble, at the heart or even the outskirts of the Village.  Our Village elders have focused on atmospherics so long (who’d you like to have a beer with, or did he say “terrorist” and such nonsense) that it becomes harder and harder for them –  or their juniors, wallowing in the same mire — to hear, actually to notice, what’s happening right in front of them.

One last thought:  it doesn’t even take malice, nor is it a mark of stupidity, sloth or professional incompetence to fall into this trap.  Group-think happens not because (or not only because) Roger Ailes sends down a memo.  It’s a natural human trait to pay attention to those who do what you do, or hope to.  Reporters read other reporters.  They — we, for I sometimes commit acts of journalism — drink at the same bars. We talk — just like everyone else.   We’ve all, I think, experienced us doing this to ourselves in some context or other.  The failure comes in the inability to acknowledge the risk, and to take conscious action to challenge it.  There’s a lot of that going round these days.

*Biden — and his speech writers, of course — are not amateurs.  He’s a pro, and a much better master of rhetoric than often given credit for (see above).  His speeches are what they seem — expressions of his thought and feeling.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t crafted — which is no bad thing.  As John Kenneth Galbraith is rumored to have said “the treasured note of spontaneity critics find in my work usually enters between the sixth and seventh draft.”)

Image: Édouard Manet, The Funeral, ca. 1860.

Eavesdropping for Effect

March 21, 2012

I haven’t written anything about the Trayvon Martin murder, because I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said.  TNC’s been powerful on this, and I found James Fallows‘ take exactly on point, and what’s been said here speaks for me as well.  If I have any thought it is that if this isn’t our Emmet Till moment, we’re even more desolate as a society than I had feared on my worst nights. (And yes, Charlie Pierce went there, but I was thinking along this line before reading him. It’s hardly an unlikely remembrance.)

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think about Martin’s death after one session of  a conference on the future of documentary.  There, I got the chance to hear, and later to talk to two of the collaborators behind Question Bridge — co-founder Chris Johnson and one of his colleagues, Bayeté Ross Smith.

That project turns on a deceptively simple idea:* find Black men with a question they want another Black man to answer, someone they may not know, someone of a different age, class, location, experience. Have them ask whatever it is while staring straight into a video camera.  The film makers then bring those questions to other men — strangers turned into confidants, who answer.  Again, they speak straight into the lens — or rather, through the camera directly to both the questioner and any eavesdroppers, you, me, whoever decides to click “play.

Here’s a sample:

There are a couple of things to note about the project from in the context of a new media conference.  The first is that this  is incredibly simple film making, as noted above, but that simplicity highlights the rigor of the craft involved, the meticulous attention to what its creators wanted to achieve as an aesthetic (and hence rhetorically) powerful piece of work. Think sonnets:  when you have fewer elements and more formal constraints, whatever you do right or wrong is there for all to see.  Put this another way, as I often preach to my students:  high production values do not mean necessarily expensive production.  It merely means you’ve thought out what you intend to do with great care long before you ever say, “turn over.”

Here’s another taste of the work, from a variant of the project intended explicitly for use in educational settings:

But back to Trayvon Martin.

Certainly, there’s nothing directly linking this project to that tragedy…except, as one of the two presenters yesterday said (I think it was Bayeté, and I paraphrase from memory), that such events are part of the fabric of Black male experience, part of the atmosphere in which Black men move.

In that context, Question Bridge has an explicit mission:  to enable Black men to speak out loud about the experiences and emotions that frame their daily lives.  Big stuff — like the blueprint clip above, or seemingly small (though, I suspect, not really so) matters like the one raised here.  Obviously, when a 17 year old kid is shot down, and the police do worse than nothing, that’s clearly a circumstance in which plenty of questions and answers will resonate — those already asked, and those to come.

Question Bridge is up front and center on this core goal: it aims to connect Black men with each other to address core questions of identity across all the barriers of distance and difference.  But, of course, by its very form as a web/museum/school/socially mediated and sourced effort, it invites others in.  It’s a triangle, built on asymmetries of time and place, questioner at a remove from his respondent, both separated from anyone else in the world who chooses to listen in…all of which adds up to a conversation that can only take place in a documented, enwebbed world.

And speaking now as what I obviously am, a middle-aged white man living a life of great good fortune (so far and mostly), what is likely obvious becomes more so:  there are lots of conversations that I would want to have, that I think our society, our culture needs to have, that in the ordinary course of the way Americans live now are vanishingly unlikely to take place.  But at Question Bridge, they do.  Of course, the exchanges constructed by the artist-film makers involved are just that:  made works of documentary art, constructed out of a whole hierarchy of choices made within the project — and hence anything but a live exchange, with all of the chance and serendipity of face to face talk.

But so what? Or rather, that’s the point.

This work entrains me, anyone, in a chain of thought and reaction, question, answer, argument, that if I were actually in the room would not happen.  And if there is anything to take from Obama Derangement Syndrome, from the seeming mainstreaming of dog whistle racism (and the old fashioned kind) — from Trayvon Martin’s death with its sudden, horrible reminder that possession of skittles can be a capital offense in these United States — then it is that one of the hardest and most vital tasks out there is to allow words that would not otherwise be uttered or heard to find voice and listeners across this wide world.

I don’t want to overclaim.  No video is going to approximate the job of living someone else’s life, and as the men of Question Bridge point out, that’s just as true within a group as varied as Black men as it is outside that particular cut of identity.  But speaking as both a guy living in America right now and as a someone who tries to work with the craft of documentary to shift people’s minds, I have to say that this is one impressive project, a genuinely innovative and (to me, at least) deeply effective use of our new tools to braid human connections that did not exist before they formed in this space.

And with that, I’ll leave you with one last video — the project explainer and pitch:

*recalling, as Richard Feynman put it, that “simple” — or “elementary,” as the physicist put it in the context of an “elementary demonstration” of a proof –does not mean easy. Rather, it means that “very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence.”

For A Good Time In Cambridge: TNC on Tuesday edition

November 28, 2011

Just to add to Ta-Nehisi Coates day at the blog, one last reminder:  any Balloon Juicers in the greater Boston area are more than welcome at Ta-Nehisi’s reading/talk at MIT tomorrow night — Tuesday, 29 November.  The festivities start at 7 in MIT’s building/room 6-120.  (Interactive map here.)

Ta-Nehisi will be starting from his work-in-progress, a historical novel set before during and after the Civil War, told through multiple voices — of slaves and former slaves, slave-holders and more.  Readers of this blog will remember Ta-Nehisi’s exceptional work on recovering some of the willed forgetting that marks so much Civil War history during “Confederate History Month” a year or so ago – DennisG highlighted that work as he added his own contributions to the effort.  This latest work is the next iteration of that inquiry — and Ta-Nehisi will talk about some of the specific challenges he’s facing as he tries to write through facts into the sound and texture of the past.

Should be a great time. Come if you’ve the necessary proximity and the interest.  (BTW:  in response to a question on my earlier announcement of this event: it’s free and open to the public, no tickets required.)

 

PSA: Brown University has a real job for a media scholar

September 2, 2010

Just got this via the grapevine — a call for applications for a tenure track job in Brown’s Department of Modern Culture and Media.

It’s a more theory-ridden post than I like (I just make films and books; I don’t

“…critically engage the technological and theoretical transformations and media flows that are rapidly resituating all forms of media and social practices: from televisuality and new media to gaming, vidding, and social networking, from consumer culture and imagined communities to geopolitics and war.”

or at least not all at once, and never before breakfast.  I’m not sure if I could even find my way to televisuality (aisle 7, just past the New Coke, Bud) once they resituated it.

(I know, I know — easy snark and all that, but why not; it’s the start of term and one must rouse one’s spirits to the task by any means at hand.)

But still and all, strip away the jargon and it’s an important subject, a real job, and a good university, so if you or someone you love matches up well enough with the field, proceed past the jump and check out the details.

Image: “Woman teaching geometry to monks” from a translation of Euclid’s Elements attr. to Abelard of Bath.

(more…)

My Favorite iPad Hater Nonsense so far

April 7, 2010

From commenter zyodei at Cory Doctorow’s blog at BoingBoing (h/t @jasonpontin’s twitter feed):

Of course, I will still never buy one, because as has been pointed out by its design I still see it as something that is designed primarily for consuming information, not creating it. And who needs that?

Uhhh…those of us who create not “information,” but works of communication, craft, art, whatever.

I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but I hope that folks actually, you know, read what I write, not to mention see or hear the other works I create.  Consuming that stuff, again, not information but composed, intended works, is something for which the iPad, among other devices, is just a dandy platform.  More of this please.

Not to mention that there are lots of hours in the day when I — I, and not a seraph, not an avenging messenger of the Tech Lords — find myself consuming other folks’ good work, and don’t need or necessarily want to haul my lapbeast.

I’m not saying that there is any affirmative necessity that should send all tech-happy folks into Father Jobs’ arms.  There are lots of reasons not to buy another thing.  I haven’t got mine yet, and didn’t get swept up on a wave of gadget-lust when I briefly toyed with one in an Apple store yesterday.  And choosing to save one’s pennies because it doesn’t perform the functions you require, as it appears it doesn’t for zyodei,, is sane, perfectly reasonable.

It’s just the “who needs that” tag that harshed my mellow.  No writer that I’ve ever known lays down words for a game of solitaire. Even as we — or at least I — write, the words seem to me to be leaning toward a reader.  Who needs “consumers” — an ugly, misleading name?  I do; every last line I write does.

Image:  Antoine Wiertz, “The Reader of Novels,” 1853

Poseur Alert (not to mention wallet grabbing): Ken Burns, Baseball and the 2004 magical Red Sox run

January 22, 2010

Here’s the sage of New Hampshire, opining on the spiritual genius of America’s pastime:

Baseball is a precise mirror of who we are, and I can’t recall a time that was more evident, particularly considering the deep emotional, communal, and personal impact, than during the 2004 ALCS when the Red Sox overcame the Yankees,’’ said Burns.

Arrrgh!  Bullsh*t.  Baseball is many things, and I enjoy it greatly, and I thrilled to the events of 2004, made yet more rich by the disasters of 2003.  But it is not “a precise mirror” of anything but, perhaps, itself.

It may offer metaphors, of course, and a genuinely penetrating examination of the dynamics of the game and the business of baseball could illustrate a some of what matters in America these days — no exploration of the Red Sox triumph of that year would be complete without diving into the steroid-scummed waters of the performances of Ramirez and Ortiz, for example.

But this malarky about “emotional, communal and personal impact” is an example of why I so loathe much of what Burns does as a historian.  Given the choice between easy myth and stilleto cut to the heart strings vs. actually coming to grips with what happened and why — he goes all kleenex and swelling orchestras on you.  Every time.

His stuff is superficially persuasive.  He’s got that style down, the lugubrious (“serious”) pacing, the soft musical bed, and the one aspect of his practice that is truly first rate, those exceptionally well done interviews stitched together with often brilliantly shaped archival spoken words.  But the substance is designed to coddle his viewers, not to challenge them.  He’s a myth maker, not a historian — and right now, when we are drowning in manufactured myths, just the thought of another Burns’ extravaganza turns my stomach.

And then there is the sheer greed and sloth involved in Burns’ current plans and pleas.  Now that he is no longer the largest receipient of corporate welfare in the PBS system, Burns has decided to milk the regular channels of PBS funding as hard as he can, potentially squeezing out dozens of hours of television in which the equivalent of watching grass grow — those endless pans across sepia photographs — are not actually seen as production values.

For example:  I have heard through the gossip channels that run through PBS that Burns intends to submit funding applications to the NEH in every funding cycle.  This is inside baseball I know (and as gossip, should be accorded the truth value such sourcing always enjoys), but if true, this puts significant pressure on the development and production of novel and original voices.

That’s simply bad, but rational behavior.  Burns likes making films, has certainly earned an audience, if not this pair of eyeballs, and there is no law against seeking any dollar of funds that might conceivably fall one’s way.

But recall that in this particular instance Burns proposes an update of an already broadcast and, IMHO, bloated series on baseball.  He’s doing a bit of an update — got to keep the shop going, after all — but the bulk of this broadcast and something along the lines of three to four percent of PBS’s primetime air for the entire year, will disappear into maw of a massive rerun.

That’s the sloth part — indolence on Burns’ part and on PBS’s.

The greed comes from Burns’ production plea, also contained in the Boston Globe article linked above:

“And one impactful way to capture the essence of that is to feature those personal mementos, the photographs of joy and jubilation, the celebration photos in the immediate aftermath, the fathers and sons and daughters, that picture of a Red Sox cap on a gravestone of a loved one who didn’t live to see the day,’’ Burns added. “Anything that illuminates the feeling and moment of what that was like for those who truly lived for this team, those snapshots and memories, we hope they will generously share them with us. The story can’t be fully told without them.’’

Leave aside the unlovely diction (“impactful.” Pah!) and what you have is a very well-budgeted production seeking unique visual material for free.

Burns is well known around New England documentary circles for this kind of thing, for poor-talking his crew, his artists and his sources of archival material.  I’ve worked with crew members who worked at cut rates for Burns in the wake of his pleas of poverty.  He is very good at striking enormously advantageous deals with young and inexperienced musicians — caveat vendor, of course, but still.

And I’ve run into the consequences of his enormously persuasive gift for getting people who should know better to give him unique visual resources for free.  More than once I’ve had to talk down curators who wanted to get from me all the money they felt they should have charged Burns.

Again, caveat vendor, as they now all do.  The usual grievance was that Burns underrepresented the non-broadcast secondary market into which he planned to sell work that contained images, and people supplying, as they thought, a nonprofit educational venture with material at their nonprofit rates felt deceived.

The archives don’t give that break to  any PBS work anymore — and they shouldn’t. (Or rather, they quote one price for broadcast only — which is nonprofit and educational — and another, higher one if the work is going to be marketed in secondary venues, which it always is.  It gets more fragmented and complicated than that in many cases, but that’s the broad outline.)

So here Burns is turning to another source.  Not newspapers or the commercial or public archives, but you and me.  And he asks for generosity. His prerogative, and if you want to have a shot at getting your pic on TV for a few seconds, go for it.  But don’t forget.  Burns is trying to get something for free that most people pay for.  Nice work if you can get it…but I don’t like it.

There.  I’m not sure if I feel much better, but pouring out a bit of bile helps.

I’ve been grieving this week, and yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, ratifying what will be, I’m afraid, the decisive erosion of both the American claim to exceptionalism and of American power worldwide, has left me almost unable to move one finger after another at the keyboard.

So yes, I know that in the great scheme of things, the success of a minor con man peddling wares to the network that now reaches, on average, less than one percent of American households every night, is less than trivial.  Still it gives me a start.  More rage to come.

Image:  Winsor McCay “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend,” 1908

Factoids piss me off: Health Care Special edition

June 24, 2009

Watching, post Red Sox, the ABC/President Obama town meeting on health care.  As they went to a commercial just now, up flashed this datum:  59% of Americans get health insurance through their employer, with a citation of the US Census Bureau 2007.

Two things give me heartburn.  First, no context means no meaning.  Seriously.

What does that number mean?  Anything?  41% of Americans are thus un or otherwise insured.  How does that compare with other nations? What impact does this breakdown have on our (comparatively poor) raw health care outcome statistics?  And so on.

Then there is the assumption that the category of employer-supplied health care is a sufficiently consistent phenomenon across employers to form a coherent group.  My employer health care is moderately expensive (I pay about 35-40% of cost of my HMO premium, compared to an individually -bought family policy, but I have considerable choice among plans and expense levels and access to just about anything the Boston medical community has to offer).  Other plans are much more limited, more expensive or both — and those distinctions are meaningful to determinative.

And even more, note the date: 2007, during a period of relative economic prosperity.  Anecdotally, I’ve been reading of all kinds of cuts in benefits, and when you have unemployment jumping from under 5 % in 2007 to 9.4% in the latest month for which there are statistics.

To put it another way:  the statistic posted in the break was not just meaningless, but almost certainly wrong.  Enough people have lost jobs,and enough businesses have had to cut benefits in the last two years so that the fraction of Americans receiving health care through employers is highly likely to be smaller than it was in 2007.

The use of that number therefore is at best useless – an isolated number whose import is undiscoverable– and at worst a false and overoptimistic claim for the robustness of the private medical care system.

I hate factoids.  I hate silly and thoughtless producers who use them as design details on the bumper screens in and out of program sections. This is the plague of news-as-entertainment.  This kind of text-used-as-graphic element is something you do as part of what’s called the packaging of a program.  It’s not meant to have meaning, but it’s terribly easy to get into trouble when you use text that does in fact hold, or appear to contain, some actual relevant information.

So, for all that I give ABC props for putting this program on despite Republican fauxrage, they have to learn how to avoid the reflexive tics of the business.

Image: Canaletto,  “Greenwich Hospital” 1752.

What Happens When You Publish A Book: Newton and the Counterfeiter/Tom’s personal experience no. 0.0

May 15, 2009

Longish title to announce the start of a series of posts aimed at providing one writer’s account of what happens in publishing a trade non-fiction book.

This post is background/procedural.  It’s going up at the same time as post 1.o, which actually contains some useful information (sez who? — ed.)

So:   This series focuses on publishing the thing, not writing it.  No doubt, some of my writing process will slip in, but what I want to do here is give a soup -nuts (AKA feeding time at the asylum) treatment of what it happens to take an idea and turn it into a block of thinly sliced dead tree, available for purchase.

This is a follow up, long overdue, to the session at Science Online ’09 that Dave Munger and I led on going “Blog to Book”  My excuse for the lag time is that I was actually finishing my first book to be published after I started blogging — it’s called Newton and the Counterfeiter, as most readers of this blog have probably figured out by now.

Dave and I had expected that those at our session would want to talk about the nitty-gritty of how to get a book published (and how to get paid enough to write it).  Instead, we spent most of our time in discussion on the deeper conceptual question of what it takes on the level of idea and writing practice to go from the scale of a blog  to a sustained text a couple of orders of magnitude longer than a single post.

So what I’m going to do here and in a number of posts to follow over the next two or three weeks is to go through some of what Dave and I imagined we’d talk about.  I’m going to start at the beginning in this post with a look at the proposal process; I’ll step back in future posts to the pre-history of a proposal in giving my take on the dread topic of agents.

Then I’ll go through the steps I went through to deal with each stage of the publishing process.  I’ll begin with what happens (for me) to deal with the editing and revision process.  Then it will be on to what happens after the writing is done and attention shifts to the problem of producing the book in the form you like.

The next phase — the one I’m actually in the middle of right now, is the process of getting a finished text-and-package (aka, the hardbound book of the sort that just arrived in boxes at my house yesterday) the attention it needs to find any kind of an audience.  I’ll talk there about my evolution from book 1 to book 4 in problems like getting blurbs; thinking about hiring a publicist; producing other materials, even other media to accompany the book and so on.

That last sentence provokes a bit of background.  I’m on to my fourth book with the Newton tome.  I love my first three texts/children still.*  Each taught me important lessons ranging from the rich content I learned to write them to what reserves I had to create to survive the long slow process of each one.  None of them were huge — o.k. even small — successes in sales terms, though each received enough serious praise to keep me going (and more importantly, to keep publishers willing to pay me for each passing book on the hopes that prior performance was no predictor of future returns).  The real purpose of this series is to capture some of those lessons.

One last preliminary, the obvious one.  This series is an account of my personal experience.  I hope it will answer some questions, including some of those raised in the hallways in Raleigh back in January.  There are lots of ways to get books out of one’s head and into readers’ hands.  I’m not trying to provide a comprehensive view of all of them.  I will reach out to some of my bookish friends to see if they want to add their concurring or dissenting views, but the key fact to remember is that you should take whatever appears here as one subjective point fo view

*Ignore Death of a Star.  I’ve tried to correct Amazon on this before, but that title refers to a pamphlet spun off from a NOVA film about Supernova 1987a for which I wrote an NSF proposal.  I had nothing at all to do with the document listed here.

Image: Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Still-Life of Books, 1628.


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