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Jul. 30 2010 — 11:07 am | 33 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

One door closes

I was originally aiming for a “Sopranos”-style ending at T/S rather than going with the typical farewell post. Journey on the jukebox. Onion rings. Ominous stalkers. Suddenly, a black screen! But what the heck. I’ve blogged in a variety of forums, and True/Slant was special in its combination of flexibility and journalistic credibility. (And also that it paid you.) It was also a great community, a portal to an array of interesting subjects and journalism about them. It was a great new media/journalism experiment, and I hope that it sparks more innovation.

Thanks to all for reading and commenting. To follow my work post-T/S, the best thing to do is to follow me on Twitter. There’s also my own website/blog. My blogging will show up there and also at the Huffington Post, the Guardian and other venues.

Jul. 27 2010 — 11:12 pm | 435 views | 1 recommendations | 7 comments

WikiLeaks, journalism, data and truth

We live in a very data-rich era. And that means fantastic opportunities for journalism. But can journalism rise to the occasion?

I refer to the WikiLeaks release of a trove of 92,000 U.S. documents detailing efforts of the U.S. Army and Special Forces in the war in Afghanistan, published simultaneously with interpretive accounts from the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. As soon as this went up, you could feel the ground shifting under the media and governments: their traditional relationships were suddenly upended by this new architecture of information flows. From anonymous leakers to seemingly invulnerable transnational secret-exposing organization to journalists and to the public.

To those who say “there’s nothing new here,” I suppose that’s right in the general sense. But if you read some of these documents (or their excerpts), I don’t think they are so easily dismissed as old news. They paint a vivid picture of a daily reality that is absurdly complex, baffling and possibly hopeless. The sensation you get from reading through them is different than if you just read the words ”complex, baffling and hopeless.” More different than if you read a policy paper on it. And more different still than if you watch the Pentagon’s daily briefings. There’s no substitute for primary sources, and the volume of information and breadth of topics creates an overwhelming sense of the drift of the war effort.

Does this represent an emergent form of journalism? continue »

Jul. 23 2010 — 10:22 pm | 682 views | 2 recommendations | 3 comments

Why Breitbart will fail

WASHINGTON - JUNE 29:  "Equal Justice Und...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I’d like to elaborate on my previous post on the recent spate of wild and/or false racism charges emanating from the Breitbarts and Megyn Kellys of the world. It was glib to ignore the longstanding complaints of conservatives about reverse discrimination.

First, for the sake of argument, some perspective: the United States has a brutal historical legacy of slavery and legalized oppression of African-Americans. It has gradually been mitigated, legally, politically, and socially, a process that continues. This process is one of the things that makes America great. But the legacy hasn’t disappeared, it remains a pernicious force in American society. There is, comparatively speaking, no significant legacy or history of black-on-white discrimination. There are black people who are prejudiced against white people, of course. Statistically speaking, some of them probably work for government agencies. But that’s not evidence of systemic anti-white discrimination.

However. continue »

Jul. 22 2010 — 10:01 am | 1,696 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

On the Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’

Now that it’s all out there, here are a few thoughts on the Washington Post’s Top Secret America project. Having done newspaper projects myself, I’m a little reluctant to critique, because I know how much work goes into them; the reporting (especially in this case, where the much of the subject matter is

classified and sources reluctant to talk), the conceptualizing, writing, and shaping of it all are very difficult. Outside criticism never quite captures the depth of the effort.

The Washington Post has done a great service in putting all this information into the public domain. We’re in an era when secrecy for its own sake, rather than to ensure safety and security, is an endemic problem. The series’s database, maps, and the stories themselves are a portrait of 21st century government-out-of-control, shielded from bureaucratic and political accountability. The implications are staggering. By pushing this out there, the Post can provide the germ of a genuine public debate on this topic. Right now, there isn’t one. That’s the essence of journalism.

Yet in other ways, the series doesn’t quite deliver – at least not what I have come to expect from a big investigative series from the Washington Post. In government, the real scandal is usually not what’s illegal, but legal and routine: the day-to-day status quo that, when examined closely by fresh eyes, turns out to be something monstrous. continue »

Jul. 20 2010 — 11:47 pm | 280 views | 1 recommendations | 4 comments

The racism faux-scandals

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went through a mandatory two-day course of diversity training. The newspaper management required it for all editorial employees after concerted lobbying by African-Americans on the staff who complained of a lot of casual racism in the newsroom. Lord knows, they were right: there was a lot of casual racism. Sexism too.

But the diversity course was bizarre. I hope they don’t still do it this way: The facilitators were true-believing leftists (ironically working to help corporations avoid being sued). They took it as their mission to convince everyone of the deep-seated oppression of American society towards minorities and women, and the role that white males played in victimizing everyone else. This was done through various exercises in which we were asked to talk about our personal lives and encounters with people of different ethnic backgrounds from ourselves. Our anecdotes were then squeezed into this oppression narrative. The idea was to get white people to see it all from the other side – or else. Some participants found the sharing to be alarming and inappropriate – it was painful to watch them fumble through it. I had recently been covering Latin America, and pointed out that systemic oppression was significantly worse in, say, Guatemala, where you could be killed for your opinions, your ethnicity, or both.

I write this not to complain, but to note that this was basically an earlier iteration of the cycle of stupid that has captured the media this summer on the question of America and race. continue »

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist and author who writes about science, environment, various forms of government dysfunction, and, against my better judgment, American politics. Also: the media and the future of journalism. My work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Wired, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. In a previous life I was an investigative/explanatory reporter for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The edge of chaos, BTW, is that narrow zone between stasis and chaos where complexity emerges and interesting things happen.

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    Contributor Since: November 2009
    Location:Silver Spring, MD