"It all gives me this vision of Thiessen dreaming about single-handedly stopping Wikileaks by typing “OVERRIDE PASSWORD” into Julian Assange’s laptop, then hitting the delete button after a stern British female voice declares “ACCESS GRANTED.” Then there is a tense moment as a glowing neon blue progress bar slowly deletes Wikileaks, but will it finish before Julian returns from the virtual reality cyber conference with George Soros where they are laughing about having just gotten an oblivious Julian Sands thrown in jail?"

"One day I got so upset, I took a metal lunch box … walked right into a classroom, right past the teacher who refused to do anything about it and hit this kid in the face," he said.

His admission prompted wild cheers from the anti-bullying advocates and educators that crowded the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Chelsea to see the bill become law.

"[I]t’s something out of a Borges novel, a security which gets traded at $37.50 per share but which doesn’t really have any value."

David Rees has a smash hit idea on his hands here.

To ask the question is to answer it.

Via The Texas Tribune, a crazily Autotuned ad for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Wish I were here. Via The Awl, the set-list for the first Pavement reunion show.

Wish I were here. Via The Awl, the set-list for the first Pavement reunion show.

The dangers of apartment sharing, as illustrated by a Judge Judy ending. (via Consumerist)

from The Onion.

from The Onion.

via Slog.

via Slog.

Twitter and the Big Blog Dream

As one might expect, I agree vehemently with George Packer’s recent screeds about new media here and here; especially, from the latter post, this bit:

[T]he response to my post tells me that techno-worship is a triumphalist and intolerant cult that doesn’t like to be asked questions. If a Luddite is someone who fears and hates all technological change, a Biltonite is someone who celebrates all technological change: because we can, we must. I’d like to think that in 1860 I would have been an early train passenger, but I’d also like to think that in 1960 I’d have urged my wife to go off Thalidomide.

But I don’t buy Packer’s conclusion that “[a]ny journalist who cheerleads uncritically for Twitter is essentially asking for his own destruction.” In fact, I’ve weirdly come to believe that the rise of Twitter — as opposed to the rise of, say, blogs, which ironically enough is the medium in which Packer chose to deliver his broadsides — might actually portend the revival of a more traditional model, rather than its continuing decline.

Yes, that sounds crazy, but let me try to explain.

When people talk about how the Internet is killing the mainstream media, they’re really thinking about blogs, specifically blogs circa 2004. The sudden rise of blogs held out a tantalizing vision of the future, where amateurs would reliably attract an audience to rival that of the mass media.  In the Big Blog Dream, there would still be a single media conversation, as it were, but there would be a leveling in that conversation whereby amateurs could join, often as quasi-equals, alongside the professionals.

This is the storyline that still basically dominates discussion of the Internet — and yet the Big Blog Dream has largely died. First, the mainstream media muscled in on it, using their storehouses of experience and talent to launch scores of their own high-traffic blogs. (Where they didn’t build their own, they hired the best amateurs to join their staffs.) Second, the Internet-native media that did survive are now hardly amateur by any definition: they’re places like TPM, Gawker, and the Huffington Post, that have built bare-bones business models that create tons of original content by leveraging young and/or unpaid/low-paid writers. And third, between these two groups (the big-media blogs and the Internet-native blogs), most of the readers no longer have the time or inclination to bother with any actual amateurs. Really, for the past three years or so, there’s been almost no hope for new bloggers who don’t quickly find their way underneath the umbrella of some established site. And so blogging (at least among the non-elderly, as Nick Carr recently pointed out) has come to seem far less vital.

What we now have, instead, are Facebook and Twitter. The contrast between the two is instructive. On Facebook, you can post everything you care most deeply about, and however much of it as you like, so long as you’re satisfied with your audience being restricted to your friends and acquaintances. On Twitter, you can only post 140 characters, but it’s open to everyone, and with searches, hashtags, etc., you can see yourself becoming a part of the giant big conversation. Really, Facebook and Twitter are the bifurcation of the Big Blog Dream. In a Facebook future, everyone is engaging in full creative self-expression, but it’s no longer adding up to one big conversation: we’re all just talking to our small circle. In a Twitter future, what we desperately care about is the survival of that big conversation, even at the expense of full self-expression. 

It’s no accident that so many of the most natural uses of Twitter — unlike those of blogs — are not the replacement of long-form media but an augmentation of them. If you blog about a long article, you’ll likely block-quote the best part and bury the link; on Twitter, all you can do is link. If you’re blogging about a TV show, you might summarize the whole damn thing (spoiler alert!), but the Twitter experience of TV is simultaneous watching.  And so on.

There’s oh so much to hate about Twitter, and anyone who follows me there will see that I barely use it.  But I do think that the Twitter urge — the thing that has brought people over from Facebook, and has kept people from sinking entirely into Facebook — is also the thing that will save the professional media in some form. Twitterers fervently want to believe in some kind of public meaning, to be a part of big public narratives, to watch the big show together; and they’re willing to accept a 140-character limit to do it.

UPDATE: Links fixed.

Harper’s and the paywall

In general, I’m not inclined to blog about the recent goings-on at Harper’s, where our editor, Roger Hodge, was recently fired. But I do want to comment on Felix Salmon’s post opining that our magazine has been “doomed by its paywall.”

When it comes to the finances of highbrow magazines, it’s simply impossible to say that the publications with paywalls have done worse than the ones without. For example, one can certainly applaud the dramatic moves that The Atlantic has been making online, but no one over there is pretending that the site comes close to making money right now, or even that it’s helping out the print side in this terrible economy. The New York Review of Books is an intellectual magazine with a paywall somewhat like ours — i.e., nothing becomes available until it’s off the newsstand — and as far as I hear they’re humming along just fine. Meanwhile, The New Yorker still seems to be doing relatively well financially, but that has little to do with the Web and everything to do with structural changes the magazine made starting roughly ten years ago, before it had much of a website. (Even today, their site still reserves perhaps a third of the magazine’s content for subscribers only.)

And yet Salmon is clearly right that articles that aren’t online are not getting talked about. As I wrote in my Times op-ed a while back, the Internet has become the de facto heart of the culture, the place where the important conversations are happening. I’d venture to say that almost every print editor today is getting his or her news primarily online. Speaking for myself, at least, if it’s not online, I’m unlikely to read it.

So the reality about the “health” of magazines is complicated. As I see it, there’s an increasing disconnect between online models that are working financially for publications and ones that are working for getting attention. The model for getting attention is easy: give it all away. But the attention online isn’t reliably translating into subscribers or newsstand buyers. (Neither is it clearly deterring them, I should add, which is why, on balance, I’d prefer to kill the paywall at Harper’s. As an editor, though, of course I’d say that.)

The fact is that the online conversation, for all its centrality, has much less reach than we want to think. Most readers, even of highbrow magazines, aren’t a part of it, and so all the online buzz in the world can’t send over enough new subscribers to make our magazines profitable in this economy. It just can’t. Right now, among print publications, the play for attention is online — in fact, it’s almost the only game in town — but the play for money is far less clear.

Sports news on a Friday?

Like a savvy politician, Tiger Woods picked Friday afternoon to announce that he’d be taking a hiatus from golf. I wonder, though: is that really a good idea when you’re a professional athlete?  I mean, sports fans spend all weekend watching nothing but sports news. It’s all they’ll talk about.  Seems like Tiger might have been better off picking Sunday afternoon.

"What Foer’s and Chabon’s baroque ministrations avoid is the one immutable fact of growing up: Your children, if you do a good job, will rarely think of you at all."

This is a funny story in itself.  Also funny: the NYT blog says that the Facebook status update said, “Where’s my pancakes?” — but was written in “indecipherable street slang”.

But in the image, you can see the actual status update in question and it reads: “ON THE PHONE WITH THIS FAT CHICK… WHERER MY IHOP”

Which is not much indecipherable as really offensive.

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