087: Don't Look Now


Verbatim

Pour one out for the great Rookie! What a genuinely rule-changing extended moment in online publishing you were! Founder Tavi Gevinson’s long goodbye letter to her life’s work is a fine, wistful meditation on growing up, modern publishing, flailing business models, truth to self vs venture capital, and so on.

Let’s say now that Bryce is the term for a businessman. He is someone who could either invest in Rookie, buy it, or work for a company that bought it and employs Bryce to worry about the company making money. He is male because, during Rookie’s first few years, most people I encountered in those positions were male, and I was sure that a middle-aged man could never “get” Rookie or me. From ages 15-20, I was Anti-Bryce. I didn’t know that many, but one depressing meeting with a Bryce is enough to send you fleeing into the warm bosom of independent publishing forever. There were and are Bryces who are not evil, but actually really great: who start and invest in meaningful, important companies; who want to use media and technology to help people in uncynical ways; without whom, power and money would belong only to the Bryces who think there should be social networks for Nazis. Back then, I was not interested in finding out about Good Bryces, the hard or easy way. My brain was still too mushy to see people as not simply Good or Evil. Or maybe I knew that there were Good Bryces—and Hayleys, and Spikes (that’s the office dog)—but it still seemed unwise to take anyone’s money.



Choire Sicha’s workplace advice column at the NYT, “Work Friend” is just glorious – they claim Sicha will only be in the chair for a couple months, but we just want this to run and run. There’s about a month worth under his byline. Read all of them.

WaPo dropped a massive piece of reporting last week on how climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the Arctic Circle, particularly when it comes to the deeply entangled fronts of security and resource extraction. This piece is so overproduced and busily presented that it’s often nigh unreadable, but it’s one of the most comprehensive pieces of mainstream reporting we’ve yet seen on a fascinating, critical, and a mostly neglected story that has profound ramifications for all of us (at least, that’s what we say every time we pitch a story on this to editors). But c’mon, does it need all that presentational bling to make us care?

We don’t have much to say about rogue CRISPR babies — there’s just too much in this story to be pithy — but we can’t leave them unacknowledged. Here’s a long and comprehensive piece of reporting from STAT that does a good, technical-ish job of laying out the profound problems with the science and the ethics. This opinion piece in Science, and its comments, are also worth a read.

Ok, so the Payless Instagram influencer prank was pretty funny, and it worked because we just said Payless twice in a sentence. At Wired, Paris Martineau lays out the landscape of the social media influencer business in a smart, depressing and nicely forensic piece, and Vox jumps on that with a Q&A of somebody who runs an influencer agency, which is a thing that exists. “It can feel pretty terrible sometimes, because nothing feels tangible,” says the agency head. We feel you.

Remember last issue we were grumbling about that viral piece by a restaurant reviewer claiming responsibility for the death of a burger joint, which we thought seemed a bit self important? Oh boy it’s way worse than that. In looking only inward, and doing so naively and romantically, that reviewer papered over a narrative of violence, abuse and fraud hiding in plain sight, which he simply chose not to look at. As ever, we turn to Helen Rosner to make sense of a story that ended up with more to say about the responsibilities and realities of the world of food writing than its author ever intended: “With this comes a responsibility among writers to see restaurants more holistically, not only as places that put food on a plate but as complex social organisms. Even the smallest, most casual operations involve communities of employees, communities of customers, dramas both private and public, and the two can’t always in good faith be separated.”

Two solid bits of reporting further diving into that mess that is/was Civil, the blockchain-driven-something-something journalism saver. In the NYT, Jonah Engel Bromwich (with illustration help from Tracy Ma) does as good a job as anyone’s yet done of laying out the understandable mundanity behind the handwaving, while at Nieman Lab, we meet the journalists who got caught up in what’s feeling more and more like a standard-issue cryptocurrency scam that just didn’t fool a soul, except for those it did.

Meanwhile, however Civil goes, we’re still rooting for Popula to survive on or off its platform, so that we can read more things like this wonderfully meandery ramble about the great Jonathan Richman, that’s about as straightforward and well edited as its subject (by which we mean that it’s not, that’s the joke).

Check out this great song right now.

That fabulous Toronto Star piece of investigative racoon reporting from a couple of months back is one of the most popular things we’ve ever posted here, so we were very glad to see it turned into a 99% Invisible episode. Though we feel a bit worn out by that particular show’s schtick these days, raccoons make great radio. Just a fact. Not as great radio as 99pi’s remarkable sister show Ear Hustle, though: a beautiful, tough, warm, human thing made from inside the walls of San Quentin prison that’s not like anything else you’ve ever heard. Amazing news last week as the show’s co-host, Earlonne Woods, had his sentence commuted, and now begins life on parole. We can’t wait to hear how the show changes as he works on it from the outside.

Rather than going direct-to-streaming, Netflix released some of its original productions to cinemas this year. As well appointed as suburban home entertainment systems have become, cinemas are still the temples of the industry. So Netflix must adhere to cinema-centred rituals if they hope to retain A-list halo talent, or to be canonized by the Academy Awards. Cannes insists it will not so easily become a stooge for its own disruptors, demanding their selections take meaningful missions through the cinemas to prove their devotion to the true spirit of the industry.

Cannes organizers may sound snobbish, but they have a point. Hollywood’s industrialization of storytelling would have resulted in a (even faster) race to the bottom if it weren’t for the careful cultivation of its own stories—the story of each film’s development, each star’s rise, each awards season, and the story of America itself (yes, even the French are complicit). If these stories slip out of alignment Hollywood becomes just another industry vulnerable to disruption. But the challenger here is no startup—it’s Chinese state media. The NYT’s China Rules series identifies this shift as part of an “epochal change” China has driven forward for decades, industry by industry. They’ve made some missteps, but the hobbyist billionaires were just cannon fodder, and now the Chinese state media has finally cracked Hollywood. And now that they’re in, they won’t be shy to wield its full power. “Mr. Xi seems to believe that China has been so successful that the party can return to its authoritarian past.”

As unlikely as it sounds, Canadian national news channel Global News is on the Chinese-epochal-shift beat too. They weave together three of Canada’s biggest stories—the opioid crisis, runaway house prices, and… casino money laundering—with the common thread of Chinese crime syndicates. This would be perfect material for the next instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise, but given the aforementioned changes in the film industry we might have to make do with Global’s endearing composition of stock footage and made-for-TV infographics.

We take a week off and we lose two of our heroes in Nicolas Roeg and Ricky Jay. So it goes. There’s been plenty of celebration of both, and we’ll spare linking you to another thinkpiece on Don’t Look Now or Walkabout. Instead, join us this weekend in rewatching The Witches, which remains a goddam underappreciated masterpiece, just as we have felt since we were like 12, and Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants, one of the greatest sleights of hand ever set to fuzzy VHS.

(And, ok, fine, if you haven’t read Mark Singer’s 1993 New Yorker piece on Jay, it is definitely the all-time great piece of magazine writing everybody linking to it this week claims it to be, so go right ahead! And chase it with “Seven Lies About Lying”, a two-part conversation between Jay and Errol Morris about the nature of deception.)


It always gets so long when we take a week off. Sorry! This week was oversized like an Australian cow. Send your friends this link and tell them it’ll be more tastily snackable next time.