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Jul. 30 2010 — 7:58 am | 1,005 views | 2 recommendations | 5 comments

How to keep up with your favorite True/Slant writer

Boy, word sure gets around fast.

Some True/Slant writers will become contributors at Forbes. Others will not. Most all will do other things online.

If you’d like an easy guide to what your favorite T/S contributor will be doing next, ‘The Goodbye Channel’ is the place to go.

Jul. 30 2010 — 12:26 am | 8,537 views | 2 recommendations | 35 comments

Thank you

When you launch a news start-up on the Internet, there’s two ways you can go: harness your powers of ego projection and hope your product catches up with it; or get down to work and start keeping up with and occasionally defining the news cycle.

True/Slant chose the latter path.

In April 2009 we went live with approximately 60 great writers. Within a few months, it was like we had always been a part of the network of websites that produce, aggregate, and comment on news. We eschewed buzz and buying our way in front of the online audience, choosing instead to let our ever-expanding assortment of terrific writers do their own thing, guiding them when necessary, and trying our best to help them get their content picked up in the right places.

We reached our first month with 1 million unique visitors, December 2009, without a single formal partnership or any other common traffic-generating gimmick. And we sustained that pace through the month of May when our CEO, Lewis D’Vorkin, announced that we were being acquired by Forbes, finishing the month at 1.5 million unique visitors.

This record of success – in terms of high quality content produced, and visitors to our site – was not a mistake. It reflected the hard-work of a team of five (supplemented by some great interns and consultants) who focused on sustaining a platform from which a pool of up to 300 writers were given the right incentives to produce engaging content that readers enjoyed, and returned to.

What we asked our writers to do – identify a unique approach to a news subject, and connect it to an audience – is where we distinguished ourselves from most news organizations. At so many newspapers, magazines, and even websites, writers continue to compose copy in the hopes that it satisfies editors who publish and pay them, and then they’re done. Here, we seldom asked our contributors to satisfy us. Rather, we asked them to think about the conversation they wanted to be a part of, and figure out what mattered to an audience they needed to imagine. These competencies, common among top editors and publishers, were suddenly requirements for every generator of content on our network.

It worked. As the months went on, more and more writers were starting to routinely generate audiences of 5,000, and then 10,000, and then 15,000 unique visitors a month, with the occasional breakout month. That audience was not strictly coming for slideshows filled with T&A, cheap shots, and other trickery – although we had that, too. Just as often, it was coming for insight that couldn’t be found in other spaces on the Internet, and news that had not previously been published elsewhere. And we put the pageview count there on each blog post so you could see it, too. continue »

Jul. 29 2010 — 4:03 pm | 676 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Congress feasts on your delicious Congressional ethics

Padma Lakshmi at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festiva...

Your clean government is playing nicely on my palate

Fans of the Bravo cable network’s Top Chef were treated last night to a cringe-inducing exercise as Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle literally dined against a background of Congressional ethical misdeeds.

The TV competition, which pits a group of chefs against one another in a variety of cooking contests, is set in Washington, DC this season. Setting the competition in the nation’s capital has led to all manner of ham-fisted competitions – ‘bipartisandiwches,’ ugh! But at least when they brought the White House chef in, he put an emphasis on healthy food for school kids. Bring a junior Congressman and a first-term Senator in for the show, however, and all they want to do is get fat at the teat of toothpick-sized lobbyist meals and theoretical ‘power lunches’ with their campaign cash patrons. continue »

Jul. 29 2010 — 10:16 am | 69 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

‘Top Secret America’ dismissed as a ’study’

I worried aloud after first reading ‘Top Secret America’ that the series from the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and William Arkin lacked a sufficient ‘villain’ to make it a lasting entry into the grand history of capital-J journalism. I also argued that reading it felt like reading a slightly more enjoyable Government Accountability Office report. And today in The New Republic, Judge Richard Posner lights the series up, dismissing it as no more than a ’study’:

The overarching theme of the study is that the intelligence system is too large. But in emphasizing sheer size, the study reflects a lack of perspective. Although the national security state has about 100,000 employees and annual expenditures of $75 billion, IBM has four times as many employees and yearly costs approaching the same amount. Is IBM too large? Is $75 billion, which is roughly one-half of one percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, too much to spend on the full range of intelligence activities in which the world’s most powerful and globally committed nation—a nation at war and struggling against terrorism on many fronts, including the home front—is compelled to engage?

via ‘Top Secret America’—A Bust | The New Republic.

This is an interesting choice of words from a legal thinker who knows how to use them. One usually calls a work of journalism a ’story’ or maybe a ‘report.’ A ’study’ is more the sort of thing that gets published by a thinktank or even an activist organization, pointing to an academic exercise that may or may not have been gamed from the start.

That ‘Top Secret America’ came off feeling like something of a ’study’ should not be all that much of a surprise – Bill Arkin’s background is more in the world of activist thinktanks than it is in the world of journalism, and the database-driven conclusion-drawing built into the series surely reflects that. And I don’t say this critically – I’m a fan of Arkin having read his work during my own time in the world of national security thinktanks.

But I think Judge Posner’s criticism that the Post’s opus failed to truly bring light to the problem is a bit over-played. Yes, of course much in the series was already known, especially to those ‘in the know.’ You could say that about just about anything broadcasted on episodes of PBS’s Frontline. But just as that show plays a social value, a big honking series like this one can bring light to a major social problem, and our ballooning, unmanageable intelligence community is surely a major social problem in this country. Will it? I worry it won’t because unlike Priest’s series on Walter Reed and the CIA secret prisons, there isn’t a galvanizing force. That’s what the series really needed to push it to Pulitzer-grade journalism.

Of course, that’s the problem with the intelligence community. Most of the time, it’s hard to know who the villains are because everything is a secret. And you have to credit Priest and Arkin for lifting as much of the curtain as they can from those secrets.

Jul. 28 2010 — 1:30 pm | 135 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Federal judge stops Arizona police from enforcing parts of immigration law

In a new battle between federal government authority and states’ rights, the first shots have just been fired. Key provisions of SB1070, the law that requires Arizona state and local law enforcement to check the immigration status in the course of routine police work, has been stopped by a federal judge in Phoenix, Susan Bolton, according to breaking news reports.

Judge Bolton’s ruling likely rests on the theory that under existing law, determining immigration status is a core responsibility of federal authorities, and not in the domain of states and their municipalities. But the ruling is only an injunction that prevents key provisions of the law from taking effect; a broader federal case will need to determine whether or not the law can ever take effect. That may have to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press notes that Bolton’s ruling freezes 3 components of SB1070: police cannot make a determination of immigration status in the course of law enforcement activity; immigrants will not be required to carry proof of their status at all times; and, undocumented workers cannot be banned from seeking work in public places.

However, according to the Arizona Republic, some parts of the law will take effect tonight:

The ruling says that law enforcement still must enforce federal immigration laws to the fullest extent of the law when SB 1070 goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Individuals will still be able to sue an agency if they adopt a policy that restricts such enforcement.

Bolton did not halt the part of the law that creates misdemeanors crimes for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants.

Stating that law enforcement must enforce federal law to the fullest extent possible would appear to create significant ambiguity, and allow motivated police to subtly carry out the ‘determination’  provision when they shouldn’t be. This ought to help fast track consideration of the cases that have been filed against SB1070.

The fight between Arizona and Washington over SB1070 will be one of two major cases with outcomes that recast the state of federalism in America. Many states have banded together to sue the federal government over the health care reform legislation passed by the Congress and signed by President Obama, arguing that its mandate that Americans buy health care impedes on states’ rights. It’s going to be a long, and complicated ride, and its political impact will be felt by public servants all over America.

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    About Me

    I'm waiting for the day when I can get the news directly into my brain. Until then, I'll be lit up by the electric glow of screens, chasing the latest breaking like the hopeless news junkie I am. Ever since the Encyclopaedia Britannica tried to launch a web portal ten years ago, I've seen many ends of the online news spectrum, from my time as a political news reporter for both RawStory.com and the Huffington Post to the better part of a year I spent running the late New York Sun's website. There have been a lot of other stops in between. Now I am your homepage editorial overlord. But I haven't let it go to my head. Yet.

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      I’m a founding editor of The Morningside Post, the community blog for Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs


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