Jun 11

Spiderman musical: lone editor joke

The brickbats have been clattering down on the much-touted, much-delayed Spiderman musical written by Bono and The Edge and which has just opened on Broadway.

This typical review from the WSJ does us the favour of relaying the only funny line from what sounds like an otherwise limp script. The scoop-hungry editor of the Daily Bugle, J Jonah Jameson, hears about one of Spiderman’s exploits and is unimpressed. “Man in tights saves child? That’s the plot of “The Nutcracker”. Get me news!”

Jun 11

Miscellany: on getting used to things being free, Mamet, closure on a reporter’s death and more

I’ve haven’t for some time rounded up a diverse collection links in a weekend post because I noticed that the readership of this blog falls to its lowest on a Saturday and Sunday.

But I’ve also been noticing that my posts have quite a “long tail” and get looked at some time after they’ve gone up. So here’s some varied weekend or weekday reading. There is absolutely no common theme.
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Mar 11

More on churnalism, stings and plagiarism

Two illuminating interventions on churnalism and plagiarism (not quite the same thing of course) worth highlighting. First is from Chris Atkins, who produced Starsuckers in 2009 and who has continued to hoax gullible hacks. The second is from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and, as it turns out a fan of neologisms. This piece includes Plagipedia and clicktivism. But it’s about the web’s ability to correct its own mistakes.

Jan 11

Tony Judt: fine writing from the shadow of death

One of my sons gave me for Christmas Tony Judt’s last book, The Memory Chalet. His choice wasn’t a hard one: I’ve wittered on for years about Judt’s perceptive and eloquent writing. But even being a paid-up Judt fan didn’t quite prepare me for this small, posthumous book’s perfectly-formed qualities.

All Judt’s skills are on display as they were fondly listed by his friends and colleagues when he died in August last year. You are reminded of his wide, lightly-worn learning, his grasp of cause and effect in European culture and history, his preparedness to unpick lazy conventional wisdom and his skill at clinching an argument with a skillfully selected and vividly described example. All these qualities and more are discussed more fully in this review by Michael O’Donnell in the Washington Monthly.

But there’s something different about this book, most of which was published episodically by the New York Review of Books in the months when Judt knew he was dying and as his body gradually shut down. The something different is the prose.

Judt was always a good writer; in The Memory Chalet he rises to a new level altogether. He was composing from memory during wakeful, immobile nights and memory is a ruthless editor, pruning the inessential. The writing fuses the personal and the political in a way that is truly rare. It reveals Judt as a talented reporter: he had an eye and a memory for killer detail.

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Nov 10

Making eloquent mischief: Mencken, Murdoch and Dannythefink

Do you ever reach the end of the week gasping to read something counter-intuitive, counter to the trend or just mischevously subversive? I do. Writing stuff which takes you places that you don’t expect to go is one of journalism’s contributions to making better sense of the world and stuff.

Here are the pieces I read this week and which made me sit up.
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Oct 10

Is this the best tweet ever?

This blog has very occasionally been a shade grumpy about over-inflated claims being made for Twitter as the platform that will change journalism, society, the world, the universe and everything.

But sometimes short is beautiful, not to mention punchy and eloquent. Mario Vargas Llosa wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. His old enemy and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez simply tweets “cuentas iguales” – or, “we’re even”.

Very cool. If you want to know why this is the perfect commentary on the news of the prize, this wonderful piece from the Guardian books blog by Stuart Jeffries will fill in the story (hat-tip: Ollie Brock).

Sep 10

It ain’t easy studying journalism

As more than 400 MA students arrive at City University London today to study journalism, what better way to mark the day than this exchange between a journalism student in Long Island and (apparently) Steve Jobs of Apple, reported here by Charles Arthur of The Guardian.

There’s a theory abroad that the internet and its capacity to circulate and store anything and everything makes big companies more responsive to consumers because if they ignore someone or screw up, more people will know. The House of Apple does not subscribe to this belief, it would seem.

Sep 10

Economists vs historians (aka Harford vs Rachman)

Yet more weekend reading on a unexpected subject. There’s a glorious and entirely civilised duel running on ft.com between columnist and blogger Gideon Rachman and his colleague the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford. They are arguing the relative merits of economists and historians.

Rachman begins by demolishing economists here. Harford replies here, with a brief rejoinder from Rachman. They stray into physicists and architects and Harford includes a lovely little anecdote about a stadium that fell down just after hosting an architects’ convention.

The context of this illuminating exchange of course is the anxious examination of their own role that economists began after the financial crash two years ago. Having done a history degree, my sympathies lean towards Rachman. Harford would make a stronger argument if he conceded that he was defending economists with intellectual humility and who display a sense of the limits of their craft. That’s a sub-group of economists in general.

There’s a lot of excellent (and accessible) good sense on this subject from another FT contributor, John Kay, in his new small book Obliquity.