Reading matter

1. Michael Massing, writing in the NY Review of Books, recently drew attention to the paradox afflicting the media business: interest in news is at its greatest, and finances are at the lowest possible ebb. Long story, worth a read if you are into media matters — and while on that, check out a recent Pew Research report that suggests media credibility is the lowest it’s ever been [The full report here]. Here’s the fun bit:

Other studies have found that people tend to seek and agree with facts and articles that supports their views, whilst ignoring or discounting articles that do not. If an article presents viewpoint or set of facts that run counter to your preconceived beliefs, you (and I) are apt to label it “wrong” or “inaccurate.”

2. Marking the death of Norman Borlaug, a comprehensive profile from The Atlantic, and an extensive interview.

3. Discover magazine thinks NASA pulled off a cool party trick when it got mice to levitate. Judging by this New Scientist article on the same subjects, humans will have to wait a while before they can float free. Unless your name is David Copperfield. Or you can access some high quality weed [easier than being DC, and better].

4. Mid life crisis? In the mood for an image makeover? Be my guest.

5. Marking a year after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, Slate’s Daniel Gross suggests that within the country it was catharsis, in the world outside it was catastrophic. The Guardian, elsewhere, suggests that the collapse was due to mixed signals between the US and Britain [what unsubstantiated rot, says Kevin Drum] — so why the heck didn’t the US just up and say what it intended to do, or not do, argues Felix Salmon on Reuters.  In the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein says if the US didn’t intervene to save Lehmann, it unwittingly did the best thing possible. And James Stewart’s mammoth feature on the last days of Lehmann, mentioned in yesterday’s round up with some teaser links, is now up on the New Yorker site — if you are a subscriber. Just printed the thing out for later reading.

6. Startling stat of the day: Japan has a 99 per cent conviction rate. In other words, if you are charged with a crime, wave goodbye?

7. The best lesson in writing that I got was from a NYU professor of journalism, who once gave me a collection of clippings and told me to read them at my leisure, then get back to her. The clippings, which I read late into that night,

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

were all about one single event: the September 25, 1962 World Heavyweight title bout between Floyd Patterson the holder, and Sonny Liston, the upcoming challenger Patterson was being accused of ducking. The fight was at Chicago, and was both a journalist’s dream, and a nightmare. Dream, because there was so much of back story to the title bout; nightmare, because there was so little material to write with: Patterson was notoriously the least articulate of major boxing champions, and Liston thanks to his criminal record and his alleged links with the mob, was paranoid about the press.

Yet there was much hanging on the bout, so the major newspapers sent their best people to cover it, resulting in a Journalists’ All Stars landing up in Chicago: Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, Hunter S Thompson, Norman Mailer… every big byline of the time, competing with each other in the writing stakes. Oh, did I mention the bout lasted only a minute and a half?

What the prof had given me was a compilation of their writings from Chicago — and it was an incredible eye-opener. You’d think there was just one way to tell this story, but each of them brought a different perspective, to the point where you thought you were reading about twelve different events starring the same protagonists; you would think there was just so much copy that could result from a minute and a half of boxing featuring two close-mouthed fighters, but Norman Mailer produced a riveting 20,000 page essay. The point the prof was making, which she later elaborated on, was that there is always more than one angle to a story, always more than one way of telling a story, and that it is lazy writing to fix on the most obvious storyline rather than explore the other possibilities.

I was reminded of all that just now, while reading this essay on Mailer’s life and works. I’m not able to find, online, his essay on that prize fight, but I found this interesting appreciation of Mailer’s boxing writings in this blog post. And to get a flavor of how he wrote, check out this classic piece from Esquire magazine, The Superman Comes to the Supermarket, Mailer’s take on the rise to prominence of John F Kennedy in course of the Democratic Convention. Bonus for inveterate readers — Esquire’s compilation of the seven best pieces ever published [including the Mailer piece on JFK], in a magazine that back in the day redefined how stories were written.

More as and when I stumble on them.

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2 thoughts on “Reading matter

  1. Fuck! Thats cruel, no? The last bit about the way the prisoners on death row are treated.

    Whats wrong with people!

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