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.

  • People often complain, often justifiably, that news media help to trivialise political debate. These same voices usually manage to ignore any journalist who has the nous, skills and space to get under the skin of what’s happening. So here are two good examples of writers capable of criticising superficiality and setting a different agenda. Matthew Parris in The Times (£) complains that the Tories seem to have forgotten about promoting competition which is intrinsic to capitalism. Paul Mason of BBC Newsnight uses the same technique from a different political angle to lament how the argument over the NHS reform plan has drifted away from the basic issue (the looming spending gap).
  • Probably the most surprising piece in the Saturday papers today is John Gapper’s interview with the playwright David Mamet. Mamet is fascinated by Sarah Palin and thinks that Europe is saturated with anti-semitism.
  • When I was covering the disruptions to diplomacy and statecraft caused by the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, phrasemakers liked to talk about improvised alliances as “coalitions of the willing”. The phrase now seems apt for some investigative journalism. For it was a coalition of three reporters who were ready to stay with the story which helped to convict three men this week of the murder of Chauncey Bailey, an editor in Oakland, California, who was murdered in 2007. Bailey was the first journalist killed in the US since 1976 and the story of the long hunt for evidence to convict his killers has some kind of happy ending.
  • Charlie Brooker is a columnist classified, for good reasons, as funny. The humour disguises some very sharp thinking; I think of this as the Bill Bryson technique. The title of this Brooker column is all you need to get into it: “If the internet gave free back rubs, people would complain if it stopped that their thumbs hurt.”
  • I was at the LSE yesterday for the summer Polis conference to talk on a panel about the “Wikileaks effect”. There’s a short summary of the discussion from another speaker, Alison Powell of the LSE. (Video here.) The point I made which clearly struck the audience the most was about a perverse and unexpected outcome of the leaks: the boost to the reputation of the diplomats of the US State Department.

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