Jeff Bezos says The Washington Post’s goal is to become the “new paper of record”

27 November 2015

From The Nieman Lab:

CHARLIE ROSE: You now own The Washington Post. Can you tell us where you’re taking it and what’s happening there?

JEFF BEZOS: Well, you know, what we’re doing with the Post is we’re working on becoming the new paper of record, Charlie. We’ve always been a local paper, and just this month The Washington Post passed The New York Times in terms of number of viewers online. This is a gigantic accomplishment for the Post team. We’re just gonna keep after that. The reason that that’s working is because we have such a talented team at the Post. It’s all about quality journalism. And even here in the Internet age, in the 21st century, people really care about quality journalism.

. . . .

ROSE: So define what you think The Washington Post is today.

BEZOS: Well, The Washington Post today is a bright light that helps shine light on all of our institutions in this country, and the political process. We know that some of the things that have happened in the past, we wish we had known more about our political leaders and our other powerful institutions in this country, and that’s been the role of the Post for a long time. And we’re just gonna keep doing that. We’re doing it now with more resources and we have a lot of patience for that job. We’re just gonna keep working at it and make sure that that institution stays strong, so that it can shine a light on all of these important players especially in Washington.

Link to the rest at The Nieman Lab and thanks to Julia for the tip.

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The Dark Side of Creativity

27 November 2015

From The Harvard Business Review:

Few psychological traits are as desirable as creativity — the ability to come up with ideas that are both novel and useful. Yet it is also true that creativity has been associated with a wide range of counterproductive, rarely discussed qualities. Being aware of these tendencies is important for anyone trying to better understand their own creativity, or that of other people.

First, research has established a link between creativity and negative moods. You don’t have to be depressed to be creative — and it’s important to note that crippling depression is more destructive than generative — but it is true that there is some empirical backing for the stereotype that artists tend to be depressive or suffer from mood swings. As Nietzsche once noted: “One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” On average, people who are very emotionally stable may be too happy to feel the need to create. After all, if the status quo is fine, why change it?

Second, the very thinking patterns that define the creative process and help lead to original thinking can have a maladaptive side. For example, creativity requires the inability to suppress irrelevant thoughts and inappropriate ideas. And creative thinkers also tend to have poorer impulse-control.

More recently, creativity has also been associated with dishonesty, presumably because it enables individuals to creatively distort reality. That is not to say that creative people are necessarily unethical. Rather, their lower tolerance for boredom and conventionality, and their more vivid imaginations, equip them with more sophisticated mental tools to both self-deceive and deceive others.

. . . .

Research has also found that creative individuals are often more narcissistic, and that narcissism can actually boost creative achievements. This makes intuitive sense. Narcissistic people are focused on themselves, and naturally spend more time focused on developing their own ideas and less time worrying about pleasing other people. However, it’s important to note that narcissists tend to think that they are more creative than they actually are, and most people are unable to evaluate creativity accurately — so it could also be that observers are just more easily deceived by individuals who seem more confident and enthusiastic about their own ideas. In line, research shows that even when narcissistic individuals are not more creative, they are better able to sell their ideas to others, creating, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. (This is consistent with the finding that narcissism often correlates with leadership, including when leaders are visionary or entrepreneurial.)

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review


26 November 2015

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.

Henry Van Dyke

And the Fair Land

26 November 2015

From a Wall Street Journal editorial that first appeared at Thanksgiving, 1961:

Anyone whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

. . . .

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Desolate Wilderness

26 November 2015

For visitors from outside the United States, today is Thanksgiving, a national holiday.

Days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services arose as part of the English Reformation during the reign of King Henry VIII. In the United States, the tradition began in 1621 following a good harvest in the Plymouth Colony located in modern-day Massachusetts. The only other English colony in North America was Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia, over 600 miles to the South.

The Colony was founded by a group of English religious separatists that had suffered religious persecution in England. After first moving to Holland, the separatists eventually decided to settle in that part of North America that was nominally controlled by England.

Of the original 102 passengers that embarked for the New World from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower, only two died during the voyage, but, after landing in December, 1620, approximately half of the company died during the first winter. The climate and topography were much different than those found in England and Holland and, as the following passage indicates, their new home was an intimidating place.

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford , sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.


25 November 2015

From TeleRead:

I’d like to add a new term to the publishing debate: Bookenfreude. I’m defining this as: “irrational pleasure derived from any apparent misfortune for e-books, regardless of truth, context, or implications.” And I was inspired by Len Epps’s terrific summary of the state of modern publishing in TechCrunch, “On The Dark Matter Of The Publishing Industry.” (Chris Meadows has also covered the piece for TeleRead.) There, he waxes on Matthew Ingram’s evocation of “a whiff of anti-digital Schadenfreude” in his counterblast to the New York Times‘s recent thinly disguised puff piece for Big Publishing on the supposed slump in e-book sales. So I tried to go one better by summing up the whole phenomenon in one word.

Epps doesn’t exactly add much to our understanding of the Trad/Big Pub vs. Self/E-Pub debate, though he does articulate it beautifully. It’s not exactly news to say that traditional publishers are trying to trap the post-e-book world into the same structures and business models that were dictated by paper print publishing. After all, that’s just what Big Media has done in every other digitally disrupted medium so far. However, Epps does highlight how transparently false and self-serving Big Publishing’s arguments have become, even to relatively neutral observers.

Link to the rest at TeleRead


25 November 2015

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Neil Gaiman

Writers on the pain of hindsight in publishing: ‘It’s like a bad breakup – you have to move on’

25 November 2015

From The Guardian:

My first book came out a year ago. It wasn’t a bestseller, and it wasn’t intended to be one. In Spite of Oceans: Migrant Voices is a quiet book of short stories based on real, everyday family lives. The stories are about how people deal with the messy stuff life throws at them; about relationships coming together, or unfolding, or crumpling under the tension of it all.

Over the course of the last year, I have started to feel out of sorts about the book. Several copies of it lie in my hallway cupboard, next to a box of old doorkeys, unintentionally kept over the years.

The problem is that I have had too much time to think about it – hindsight has got the better of me. I know the book is not awful, because it has been well-received and some objective readers have enjoyed it. But inside I feel it’s not brilliant – it’s not bad, it’s no big deal, it’s just OK. Which isn’t quite good enough. I keep thinking I could have done better, written better. If only this, if only that. Don’t we all feel that way when we’re striving to express something we care about?

They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. As a writer, however, it’s irritating, an itch in an awkward place. Hindsight does no favours for those who are naturally self-deprecating. Even though your work is already published, a writer can never quite draw a line and accept that something is finished. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied,” Zadie Smith wrote in her rules for writers. You self-indulgently edit and edit, tweak and tweak all the time in your head, and it’ll never, ever be perfect.

. . . .

Stephen King wrote: “I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write.” Self-doubt is heightened by procrastination. This kind of hindsight lodges itself in your mind like a relative who drops in uninvited and then stays far too long. How, then, to say enough is enough? How to tell hindsight to get the hell out? How to move on?

I asked seasoned writers for advice. I have learned that it’s OK to feel weird about your book, and that many writers are at odds with what they have written after it is published. But I also learned that you have to move on, because if you don’t it will consume you. In three words: get over it.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

When the Sharing Economy Comes to Publishing

25 November 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

The idealized vision of writers toiling away at their art in solitude may not be going anywhere, but it’s also not the sole vision of how writers will produce quality work in the near-distant future. Let’s face it: we are experiencing a cultural revolution brought on by the sharing generation, and sharing-economy practices will not ignore the publishing industry. After all, why do all stories need to be a one-way exchange of ideas from writer to reader? Why can’t stories be written collaboratively by multiple authors and shared as they are written?

Sharing technologies such as Uber and Airbnb have proven that huge efficiencies are available when you take a Dickensian business model and share the resources within a network. The sharing model can actually thrive more easily in publishing than in other industries, because stories can be easily crowdsourced and consumed in real time.

Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.

Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.

The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

No Heroes

25 November 2015

From Slate:

The shock and awe of Amazon’s new series The Man in the High Castle comes mostly from stuff and settings. It depicts an alternate 1960, in which America lost World War II and is occupied by the Nazis (the Northeast and Midwest) and Japan (the West Coast), with a strip of neutral territory surrounding the Rocky Mountains running down the middle. Struggling to animate some fairly weak characters, it leans heavily on the disorienting impact of its rich, meticulous visual design: swastikas emblazoned on everyday objects like cigarettes; familiar San Francisco street scenes with the signage all in kanji; a happy, wholesome, Cleaver-esque family sitting down to breakfast with a son in a Hitler Youth uniform. In the threadbare neutral zone of the series, you can still glimpse a bit of Americana among the shuttered and peeling storefronts—a Chevrolet sign, for example—all of it so rundown, grimy, and obviously defunct that it’s already half fossil.

This is the world Philip K. Dick created for the series’ source, what’s widely considered his best novel, published in 1962. But the new TV series is so alien to the book in spirit that it would be a shame if it came to supplant our understanding of what is also one of the best mid-20th-century American novels about colonialism and its corrosive effects on the human psyche. The Man in the High Castle is a strange, mournful story in which not very much happens to people who have very little control over their lives and even less inclination to do anything to change that. It ought not to be engrossing, yet it is. The series’ creators have tried to pump up its premise into something that can sustain a 10-episode season (or more) by giving Dick’s dystopia an element that it utterly lacks in the book: an insurgency dedicated to fighting the twin fascist regimes that control the former United States. The people in Dick’s novel never consider resistance. They’re not heroes, and that, paradoxically, is exactly what makes them so arresting.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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