Jun 10

In praise of length and depth (especially when writing about tribes)

I saw a blogpost or tweet just now which said: “who says print is dead when a Rolling Stone story can topple McChrystal?” The question misses the point. That story would have sent General McChrystal into retirement whether in print or online.

What’s significant is that the printed publication that carried the story wasn’t a daily paper but a magazine. That’s the crux: what scores is length and depth. The allocation of time and money to dig a little deeper.

Maybe Rolling Stone’s writer Michael Hastings got lucky when McChrystal’s team got stuck under the volcano ash and went out and got drunk in Paris, unleashing a string of revelatory quotations which gave the piece its kick. But I’d guess it was something more.

Hastings was quoted as saying that he was suspicious of the very good press McChrystal had been given by the newspaper reporters who had been given extensive access to him. He thought that they were perhaps going easy because they wanted stories and background in the future (useful commentary here from a correspondent who used to cover the Pentagon). Hastings, as a magazine writer, didn’t need any future with the General.

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Jun 10

Weekend miscellany: Assange, Kenyan corruption, why is sport so huge, the missed banking story and Iran

I’m increasingly finding, as this blog finds its feet, that I reach the end of the working week with a bunch of links which I’d like to pass on but which don’t require much comment or elaboration. I’m going to try bundling them into a single post. From time to time these pieces will have already appeared in “What I’m Reading” (just to the right of here) but that feed often osbcures the real subject of something I’ve clipped into Delicious. What follows is an eclectic selection, so there’s no point in trying to pretend that there’s any common thread.

  • Fascinating drama now going on around Wikileaks as the US government goes after its founder Julian Assange. Some background here. A more recent summary from The Economist, containing an intriguing little hint from Pentagon Papers man Daniel Ellsberg.
  • I’ve been reading properly for the first time It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong, the story of John Githongo, the man who exposed deep-seated, systemic corruption in the Kenyan political elite. The book is a superbly-written tragi-comedy: Githongo “exposed” a lot of appalling evidence but failed to dent the practice by which Kenyan ministers plunder the country’s treasury. But thanks to the depth of Wrong’s knowledge of her subject, the book is also a history of modern Kenya – and a very dispiriting chronicle at that. When Kenya’s tribal rivalries explode again, as Wrong predicts they surely will, reading this book will explain what is happening and why. Among her many qualities as a writer, Wrong is unafraid to take aim at conventional pieties. As they say in Texas, sacred cows make the best burgers.
  • Especially at World Cup you may occasionally wonder how sport, all sport, got so big. Because once upon a time, sport just wasn’t that huge a thing. When you don’t read much a subject – and I don’t read much about sport – you like an issue fully dealt with in a single place. This piece by Tim de Lisle from Intelligent Life is it.
  • Sometimes it takes a non-journalist to spot that journalists are asleep at the wheel. Not every document that emerges from the Bank of England is newsworthy or even comprehensible but the one spotted in this post was. As the perenially interesting MP Frank Field remarks here, this was not a story which either the Financial Times sor The Times ought to have missed.
  • A cluster of excellent stories from The Guardian on Iran at the first anniversary of last year’s stalled “green” revolution-that-wasn’t.

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