Wednesday, January 30, 2008

News research and new media

First, an unrelated sidebar: Here's one of the loveliest, and most relevant, new Web sites I've seen in a long time: The Root, from The Washington Post and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The 'Wikipedia for research' discussion has been going on for a long time now, with serious arguments among news librarians on their listserv; several have promoted use of Wikipedia as a great starting point for finding links and facts to check out, but other researchers and journalists are appalled that anyone would use such a 'non-verified' source.

Two good discussions appeared this week, including an article in American Journalism Review: Wikipedia in the Newsroom. It quotes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales as saying what several researchers have posted in the Newslib-L messages:
"I think that people are sort of slowly learning how to use Wikipedia, and learning its strengths and its weaknesses," he says. "Of course, any reasonable person has to be up front that there are weaknesses... On the other hand, there are lots of sources that have weaknesses." Wales thinks the encyclopedia's best journalistic use is for background research rather than as a source to be quoted.
Lots of good discussion here, from reporters and copyeditors, pro and (mostly) con.

At Mediashift, an article by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, How Google, Wikipedia Have Changed Our Lives — For Better and Worse. Reporting about a UK professor who has banned use of Google or Wikipedia by her class, Maderazo says the professor has a point:
I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the Internet and lately have become concerned that it’s actually changed the way I think — for the worse. While it’s great that I can get instant answers to any question under the sun and read books online for free, I am also feeling unchallenged and reliant on this type of convenience.
But, she says,
I haven’t been to the library in about 10 years. I use the Internet for absolutely everything related to research, and in fact, I’d feel totally crippled without it. The speed at which I collect information is so lightning fast that it’s difficult to digest it all.

One thing she would find impossible to give up, she says, is the ability to quickly answer 'burning questions', like what song is it that has that riff she hears over and over in her mind? (Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street, answer found quickly, with reams of information, in Google.)

Fascinating discussions.

On a similar new media topic, also in American Journalism Review, In Your Facebook, on why journalists are signing up in droves. I'm still not drawn to Facebook, but was invited to LinkedIn a few months ago and have been enjoying the connections I'm remaking -- and making.

(Updated:) For some even deeper thought about journalism, the Web, Wikipedia and research, Doc Searls has some ruminations in Linux Journal: Journalism in a world of open code and open self-education.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Research links update

Posting has been slow and I haven't posted research links in a couple weeks. Here are a few things I bookmarked recently:

  • Audubon's Birds of America, the entire volume with images, scanned. From Audubon Soc.
  • Religious Demographic Profile: United States quick recent stats from Pew Forum/Census; note pull-down menu of several other country profiles.
  • Native Wiki "a free, open-to-the-public library of information about indigenous nations and peoples (past and present) of the world. "

  • C-SPAN's Campaign Network

  • Email Patterns, a wiki for telemarketers, helps determine what a company's email protocol would be.

  • Das Zeit: Archive all editions back to 1946.
  • The Atlantic: Back Issues: all issues back to 1995 now available for free online, along with selected stories from earlier years. An Editor's Note annouces the current issue will also now be available without subscription. Note that this prompted Doc Searls, a champion of free archives, to try to subscribe to the print version online. Didn't work.

  • Worldwide Military Expenditures from Global Security.


  • Thursday, January 24, 2008

    News: how local do you want it?

    Over at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Mark Schaver is looking at Adrian Holovaty's new just-released project, Everyblock. Schaver, who writes the Depth Reporting blog on the paper's website, is a data guru who does and promotes computer-assisted and investigative reporting. Holovaty is a data guru who has come up with some of the most innovative new data projects, including his Chicago Crime database. The new project is compiling block-by-block data from three cities, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, and will add more.

    So it's interesting that Schaver has questions about the relevance of all this data, in EveryBlock, Heath Ledger and the Pothole Paradox:
    I'm ostensibly a data person, but browsing raw data, while it can be worthwhile, isn't nearly as compelling to me as the sudden, unexplained death of a 28-year-old movie star.
    Good stuff.

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    Tracking lies

    Linked everywhere, but in case you missed it: the Center for Public Integrity has released The War Card, a searchable database of 935 false statements made by Bush administration officials in the two years following September 11, 2001 about Iraq.
    For more, see Lie by Lie: The Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline (8/1/90 - 6/21/03), linked earlier.


    40 Years Ago

    With this week’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, the presidential primaries and the continuing war, and since I’m reading David Halberstam’s Powers That Be, especially the parts about the Washington Post and the Vietnam war, I’ve been thinking about 1968.

    It was, of course, a pivotal year in American history, as Tom Brokaw’s recent book and documentary, and another that came out a few years back, showed us.

    It was the year I began my adult life. It was 40 years ago.

    In the beginning of 1968 I was 22. I had graduated, from Marymount College, with a major in political science and a junior year spent at the London School of Economics, the previous June. Over the past few months I’d picked grapes near my home in upstate NY to make some money, and decided to move to Washington DC.

    My cousin and I moved in with a friend of hers near Calvert and Columbia, and we started looking for jobs and an apartment. She found a job as an art school receptionist first, and we got a basement apartment in the Mt.Pleasant area, on Lamont Street. It was a slightly dicey neighborhood but with some touches of gentrification. At night we could hear the animals in the National Zoo.

    I answered several ads for various types of office work, nothing I looked at was interesting nor were they interested in me. Finally I went to the Washington Post where they were offering jobs taking classified ads at a rate of $135/week, higher than anything else I’d seen. The personnel counselor said I was overeducated, and sent me to the Promotions department where they had a temporary opening. For 6 weeks or so I would visit the newsroom library, looking for clips of stories that were to be submitted to various journalism prizes, including the Pulitzers. I clipped copies of the stories and pasted them in booklets. I had a job, of sorts, in Washington.
    Meanwhile, the Vietnam war, after 5 years or so, was escalating, and more and more American soldiers were being sent there, and dying. Marines were surrounded at Khe Sanh. The Tet new year was coming. Eugene McCarthy’s youth campaign was surging and it seemed this reluctant scholar might challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Bobby Kennedy – and George Wallace -- were considering starting campaigns, too. The growing cost of the war was threatening to erode LBJ’s Great Society. War and draft protesters were being prosecuted. The Beatles had released Magical Mystery Tour and were visiting India, and drugs were changing the culture. North Korea seized a U.S. Navy ship, the Pueblo, and the second –second! Super Bowl was played (Lombardi’s Packers beat Oakland).

    It seems it was a time very much like this one.

    And it would be an eventful year.

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    Tuesday, January 22, 2008 returns

    Yes, in another blast from the past, the Miami Herald has revitalized its old city directory/guide website, (see an original version from 2000 at the Internet Archive). This time it's a beta release so not quite ready for prime time? See it at (For many years since was abandoned the URL has been going directly to the Miami Herald's website at

    So far it seems a bit more ambitious than the old website, which consisted of pulled-together neighborhood guides from the archives, along with a beach guide, restaurant reviews, and the like. But then again: this one consists of neighborhood guides, restaurant reviews, and things like Jodi Mailander's guide to old Florida sites and Enrique Fernandez' paen to the Cuban Sandwich. (I'm pretty sure the sandwich story is from the archives, but hadn't seen the old Miami guide before.) There's an additional aspect to the project, encouraging readers to become contributors to the site, possibly becoming a social network.

    Well, well. What is old becomes new again. I think of all that work abandoned all those years ago, now to have the idea revived. I guess it was one of those Knight Ridder projects that was too far ahead of its time, like Viewtron.

    In other Miami news, Miami411's Gus Moore announces Rick, formerly of Stuck on the Palmetto, is coming out with a new review of South Florida blogs soon.

    Thanks for the heads up to Critical Miami.

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    That internet fairy tale

    One of the premises being forwarded in all the discussions of David Simon's view of journalism presented in this year's episodes of The Wire is the one about how newspapers lost to the internet because they gave their stories away for free. (Simon, in the Post on Sunday: Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?)

    I had thought this one had been pretty much debunked, with the rational views presented over the years by Doc Searls (and here) and others, and with the New York Times dropping its paid access to columns and archives, and even rumors of the Wall Street Journal dropping its subscription fees.

    Ryan Sholin notices too, and says, in a posting entitled Debunking the coulda-shoulda-woulda myth of online news,
    Putting the news behind a paywall as early as, say, AOL’s heyday - or earlier if you prefer - would have actually served to accelerate the rise of blogs, citizen media, and flight away from news-on-paper.
    Because pulling your content out of the stream of connections that is the Web would have led to members of your community making even more connections themselves... ...your readers know how to communicate with each other without your help.
    They’re not as dumb as you think.

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    Neglected by US media?

    Roy Greenslade says US journalists ignore Sunday Times scoop on FBI nuclear scandal, pointing to this investigative report in the Times: FBI denies file exposing nuclear secrets theft. From the Times report:
    THE FBI has been accused of covering up a key case file detailing evidence against corrupt government officials and their dealings with a network stealing nuclear secrets.
    The assertion follows allegations made in The Sunday Times two weeks ago by Sibel Edmonds, an FBI whistleblower, who worked on the agency’s investigation of the network.

    Well, there is some notice in the blogs, and in Editor & Publisher, where a staff report links to Daniel Ellsberg's column on the story at Brad Blog.

    But, most media are more concerned over whether the AP should be writing Britney Spears' obit.......

    Or, as Ellsberg says in his column:'s a measure of how far the New York Times and Washington Post have fallen from their responsibilities to the public, to their profession and to American democracy, since I gave them the Pentagon Papers in 1971. They printed them then. Would they today?

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    The other side of the story: Iraq dead

    How many civilians killed in Iraq? The argument has raged, since not long after the war begain nearly 5 years ago now. Estimates from Johns Hopkins and the Iraq Body Count database were dismissed as too high.

    Well, Iraq Body Count is now saying there have been somewhere between 80 and 90 thousand civilian deaths. The Johns Hopkins survey came out with a new estimate in 2006 that reaffirmed the original report, and said over 600 thousand may have been killed by circumstances related to the hostilities.

    But, according to the World Health Organization, a New study estimates 151,000 violent Iraqi deaths since 2003 invasion.
    The study found that violence became a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults after March 2003 and the main cause for men aged 15-59 years. It indicated that on average 128 Iraqis per day died of violent causes in the first year following the invasion and that the average daily violent death toll was 115 in the second year and 126 in the third year. More than half of the violent deaths occurred in Baghdad.


    Radio trolls

    Although the other side of the Navy's encounter in the Straits of Hormuz the other day has been discussed in a lot of places, I haven't yet heard anything about it in the major media, and too many are taking the 'attack threat' from the Iranian military at face value.

    Many reports say the radio transmission heard on the ship probably came from pranksters, not an Iranian military vessel. Several stories, like this one at gCaptain blog, discuss a common name for these radio harassers as the 'Filipino Monkey': The Filipino Monkey Strikes Again (and again and again…).

    Today the AP reports on it, too: WGulf Prankster at Issue in Iran Dispute.
    Several Navy ship drivers interviewed by Navy Times are raising the possibility that the Monkey, or an imitator, was indeed featured in that video.
    Also: The Navy Times discussed the 'Filipino Monkey' connection this weekend. And in the UK, the Register reported Friday: US-Iranian naval clash: Radio trolls probably to blame.


    Taking more green steps

    Here's a good, simple list of things we all can do to improve the environment: 50 simple tips from a year of living the green life.
    From the Chicago Tribune via the Orlando Sentinel (and via Knox Views).

    I'm glad to see I'm doing a lot of them. Although I haven't gotten around to unplugging the computers and TV/satellite/VCR at night. Even so, we have been pleasantly -- that's not an enthusiastic enough word -- ecstatically? shocked to see how much our electric bill has gone down over the last year.

    We had CFRs in several lights, mostly ceiling lights and outdoor lights, at the beginning of the year. Now we've replaced nearly all of them, except for a few that dim or use halogen bulbs. We're even hooked on 3-way CFRs now. I don't understand the naysayers who complain they have the bad qualities of fluorescent lights: I find them soothing. A bit less bright, yes, and they take a microsecond to turn on, but it's a pleasant light and fine for reading/knitting. We certainly think the new bulbs are the reason for the low electric bills. (And yes, it's a real savings. Bills that were about $85 in winter are now under $60.)

    Now if we could just find a way to use less propane: Our per gallon cost increased in last tank fill by about 70 cents. Since we keep the programmable thermostat at 60 at night we can't go any lower. We bought a convection and warming oven/microwave combo so we can eliminate using the big oven for warming foods, but in winter the oven heat is welcome.


    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Teaching web journalism

    There's been a lot of discussion recently on lots of j-blogs about how to get journalists to become web savvy. Lots of folks have linked to bits of the discussion, and I considered collecting links but didn't, and now I wish I had because the conversation is getting even more interesting.

    But one of the best discussions I've seen was built on a link on Mindy McAdams' Teaching Online Journalism blog, No room for Web newbies? reacting to a post by Paul Conley, who says you can't train someone to be part of a culture. McAdams' reaction:
    It’s the kind of post that gets me feeling very conflicted. One part of me is thinking, “No, no, Paul, that’s terrible!” But another part is thinking, “He’s right, he’s absolutely right.”

    Yep. I spent a good part of the last 15 years or so trying to explain new databases and media to people who needed to know about them if they were going to become better at this new journalism game. Many of them got it and were enthusiastic about chances to learn. But many felt they were being forced in a direction they didn't want to go. How much training time can you spend on those?

    Conley says,
    An online journalist isn't a journalist who works online. He's a journalist who lives online. He's part of the Web.
    It's a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn't already become part of the Web.

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    A question for Miami

    In Salon: The coddled "terrorists" of South Florida. There will be lots of debate on this one.

    From the Salon report,
    In Greater Miami, home to the majority of the nation's 1.5 million Cuban-Americans, the presence of what could credibly be described as a terrorist training camp has become an accepted norm during the half-century of the anti-Castro Cuban diaspora. Alpha 66 and numerous other paramilitary groups -- Comandos F4, Brigade 2506, Accion Cubana -- are so common they've taken on the benign patina of Rotary Clubs with weapons.

    The report was written by Miami writers Tristram Korten and Kirk Nielsen, with research help supplied by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
    Kicker quote: "This is Hezbollah in Florida".

    No sign of any reaction on some of the Miami blogs (Babalu was busy insulting women. Where's Stuck when you need it?) but lots of comments on the Salon story.

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    Faces from the war

    It only takes a brief glance at the faces on top of this story to see what war is doing to our people, again. In the New York Times, beginning of a series called War Torn: Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles. It's a study of the 121 deaths caused by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan so far since the war started.
    Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.
    Violence leads to violence. Of the 121 victims, 41 were family or girlfriends. A quarter of the victims were fellow service members.

    It's not a new phenomenon, of course, we certainly remember those who came back from Vietnam and just couldn't fit anymore:
    After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.

    Congrats to the two reporters who wrote the story, Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez (who I knew as Miami Herald reporters, years ago), and to the many researchers who contributed as well, including Margot Williams.


    New interview site, politics, and birds

    For news and celebrity junkies, here's a wonderful new resource, Access Interviews. Mostly from the British press, it's just a collection of interviews of the famous and not-so-famous. On the front page today, interviews with people as diverse as Maria Sharapova, Ruth Clapton, and Tomi Rae Hynie. There's also links to the Top 10 accessed interviews, where Enrique Eglesias comes in second after new film sensation Charlie Cox; and here's number 7, a page of several interviews of Nigella Lawson.
    Since the interviews are archived, this will become a more-and-more essential resource for research. (Via Greenslade.)

    In Eat the Press, Rachel Sklar takes on the crazy distortions that the press have been making of Bill Clinton's 'fairytale' comment: Right, And In Context. Is That Too Much To Ask? Or Is It Just A Fairytale?. Sklar:
    Here's what I find to be very depressing: When someone's words are taken deliberately out of context and blasted across the headlines to make them sound like a racist. That, to me, is despicable.
    ...It's up to the media to be on top of these things — especially when they're reporting on it.
    Depressing is right. (Update: more on this story from Media Matters: Media outlets continued to mislead on the Clintons' "fairy tale" and civil rights quotes.

    I ran across little else to bookmark last week but had two things there worth noting, even if late:
    In the Washington Post, last Sunday: George McGovern: Why I believe Bush must go, calling for impeachement of Bush and Cheney. Extraordinary, especially to someone who voted for McGovern for president, so many years ago.
    I may have seen and linked this before, but it's worth another mention, since it's such an iconic American resource: Audubon's Birds of America, the entire volume with images, scanned. From the National Audubon Society.


    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Car of the future?

    Finally, there's a picture of the new car from Tata Motors in India, the unveiling of which was announced a few days ago (with no photos). From Reuters (in the International Herald Tribune): Tata Motors rolls out the $2,500 'Nano' in India,

    It's always good to see someone doing something new in the car market, particularly if it's low cost and non-gas-guzzling. (OK, the Yugo didn't make it, but give this one a chance.) Not much here about fuel usage, but the engine is just over 600 cc so can't be too bad.
    Tata planned the car years ago as a safer and affordable alternative for the millions who often ferry families of four, plus baggage, on motorbikes and scooters.
    It's hard to think of all those families adding to the fuel demand, on top of the increased demand from China, but maybe won't add a lot more than those motorbikes and scooters already did.

    And, why not a car from India? You can already buy a Mahindra tractor down at the local Tractor Supply store. And we're happily buying Haier appliances from China (not to mention all the LGs, Samsungs, etc. from Korea).


    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Miscellanea from the Primaries and other places: separating facts from emotion

    Although I don't have a horse in this race (I'm still pretty ambivalent about the democratic candidates), the reactions to the New Hampshire primary results are fascinating. Sheila Lennon starts her entry,
    Woman wins presidential primary

    I just wanted to see that headline in my lifetime.

    Doc Searls reacts, too, and says
    I’ve never been a Hillary fan, mostly because it seemed that nothing she said wasn’t calculated. But when she choked up a couple days ago, for the first time I heard her get real. And likable. Last night after her victory in New Hampshire, she said “I found my voice”. There was nothing fake about it.
    But, in most commentary, the discussion is more opinionated, especially on whether Sen. Clinton's 'emotional moment' was calculated, hurt her, or proved a point. Maureen Dowd: Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?
    ... there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.
    In reaction, from Shakesville: Shut Up, Maureen Dowd , calling it
    mind-blowingly appalling even for the World's Most Obnoxious Feminist Concern Troll [TM]

    On another candidate, how did New Republic's expose of Ron Paul's old newsletter ramblings affect his primary results, if at all? See Angry White Man, 'The Bigoted Past of Ron Paul'. It's good to see some real research applied to the story:
    Most voters had never heard of Paul before he launched his quixotic bid for the Republican nomination. But the Texan has been active in politics for decades. And, long before he was the darling of antiwar activists on the left and right, Paul was in the newsletter business.
    ...Finding the pre-1999 newsletters was no easy task, but I was able to track many of them down at the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself.
    ...the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul's name, and the articles...seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.

    At Tom Dispatch, finally, a look at the story behind Charlie Wilson's War and what the movie leaves out. See Chalmers Johnson, An Imperialist Comedy, with references to research in the area by Chalmers Johnson and Steve Coll. After reading George Crile's book when it came out, I was looking forward to this film, but having seen the trailers and the 'making of' show, am already disappointed. To me the story of Wilson's quest (and pretty clear in the book) was how he created and armed what eventually led to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Johnson:
    One important part of that recognition, studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth.
    ...the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, a co-producer as well as the leading actor, "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing."

    On PBS' Now, transcript of an interview with Forbes' Director of Knowledge Management Anne Mintz, The Misinformation Superhighway, focusing on how to determine good political information from bad, including links to responsible sites that analyze rumors and 'facts'.

    (On a recent topic, the discussion still continues over 'The Wire's treatment of the Baltimore Sun in the latest episodes, here at Hitsville, and at Ubiquitous Marketing, where creator David Simon chimes in. Simon has commented on so many blog reviews of his show that Romenesko points them out.)


    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Weekend update: More research links

    Beginning of the year, time for new useful reports to come out. And a few other things:

  • Public Records Wire announces new online databases. You can also browse or search the complete list.
  • Massachusetts cases being put online by Mass. Trial Court Law Libraries. Now available covering 1986-1996. Cases from 1997 on are available at Lawyers' Weekly.
  • National Methamphetamine Threat Assessment 2008 from DoJ.
  • Why The Worst is Probably Over in Iraq, report from American Enterprise Institute.
  • Healthcare faces pivotal year in 2008 says PricewaterhouseCoopers’ health research institute in its annual review of the top health industry issues.
  • World Oil Transit Chokepoints. report from Energy Information Administration.
  • Transportation Service Index and the Economy, a BTS technical report.
  • Pakistan’s Institutions and Civil Society, report from Council on Foreign Relations.
  • How Green is your Candidate? Interviews and analysis from Grist and Outside.
  • How to Never Spend Money on PC Software Ever Again; a guide to free software from a Virginia librarian.

  • Friday, January 04, 2008


    Every once in a while, one of the many conversations going on all over the web hits a chord, and makes you think. Here are a couple:

    In The Sneeze, Steven wrote about a strange little drawing that his father had done for years, on birthday cakes and cards. For his latest birthday, he asked his father to explain what the drawing is. What a great tale: The Mystery of the Face on the Cake. It involves a little boy in the 40s who wanted to draw like his friend, so got himself a book on how to draw faces. Only one face survived, but he couldn't say exactly how it evolved: This made for a great dialog between parents and son:
    My Mom: Can I tell you what I think. He drew this picture for me many times. Originally I thought that was a pipe that he had (in his face.
    Dad: Sticking in his neck?!
    Mom: It used to be a pipe.
    Dad: No, no, no.
    Me: You know that game "Telephone" where one kid whispers something into another kid's ear and it goes down the line until at the end it's completely different? I think that's what this is. A crazy game of Telephone that's taken place over 60 years in one man's mind.
    Mom: I agree. But I think it got better over time.
    Dad: That's what it looked like in the book!
    Thanks, Dad.
    And, after readers found the original book:
    Obviously I left off his nose.
    What happened there?
    I don't remember. Somewhere along the way I left it off. I hope you're not putting this on your site.
    This is not for publication.
    Are you crazy? This is ABSOLUTELY for publication. The only reason the internet exists is for this conversation to be on it!
    All right.

    Wonderful conversation going, too, on a totally different topic, the story of Baltimore told in David Simon's The Wire (already mentioned in previous postings here). In The Atlantic, Mark Bowden profiles 'The Angriest Man in Television'.
    Some years ago, Tom Wolfe called on novelists to abandon the cul-de-sac of modern “literary” fiction, which he saw as self-absorbed, thumb-sucking gamesmanship, and instead to revive social realism, to take up as a subject the colossal, astonishing, and terrible pageant of contemporary America. I doubt he imagined that one of the best responses to this call would be a TV program, but the boxed sets blend nicely on a bookshelf with the great novels of American history.

    There's much more on Matt Yglesias' blog, where the comments are making a great conversation: David Simon and the Audacity of Despair. In the comments, David Simon himself writes in and questions the people who claim his view is too negative:
    If The Wire is too pessimistic about the future of the American empire -- and I've read my Toynbee and Chomsky, so I actually think a darker vision could be credibly argued -- no one will be more pleased than me as I am, well, American. Right now, though, I'm just proud to see serious people arguing about a television drama; there's some pride in that. Thanks.

    (Via Metafilter and Boing Boing.)

    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    Great tools from Virtual Chase

    The Virtual Chase ('Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research') has, in the last couple months, put videos demonstrating how to use research resources online. Unfortunately, since I have only dialup (although that will change soon), I haven't been able to view the files, so hesitated to link them without seeing.

    I've heard from a journalist friend, though, who leads a newsroom of young reporters; she's posted links to the research training videos on her intranet, and praises the videos highly.

    Today the Virtual Chase's newsletter announces a new one: learning to use BRB's guide to online public records databases. BRB has been on my list of useful public record guides for several years now.

    The others are available on Virtual Chase's website, on this Internet Research Presentations and Teaching Webs page. Note the videos listed here are demonstrating How To Search the SEC's EDGAR Database, and Using the U.S. Party/Case Index.

    Virtual Chase has been one of the best sources around for guidance on finding research materials online, particulary in the area of People Finders and Public Records. The videos should be an essential part of any newsroom's tool kit. I'm looking forward to seeing them soon: the fiber optic cable is nearing our house.

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    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Obituary of an obit writer

    Nice sendoff in The Telegraph of their former obituaries editor, Hugh Massingberd, who died at 60.
    ...he never sought a heavyweight reputation as a journalist. On the contrary, he developed an easy and conversational style which drew on the infinite stores of his brain in the lightest and most readable vein.
    ...Telegraph readers found themselves regaled by such characters as Canon Edward Young, the first chaplain of a striptease club; the last Wali of Swat, who had a fondness for brown Windsor soup; and Judge Melford Stevenson, who considered that "a lot of my colleagues are just constipated Methodists".
    The column also made a speciality of tales of derring-do from the Second World War. The foibles of aristocrats proved another fertile source.

    Telling quote, from the Comments on this story:
    We here in the States have had to come to England (on the Internet Sky Train) to find stimulating, decent, informative, & witty obituaries (if S.I. Newhouse and Cousin Pinch only had another billion dollars to play with...)