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We are obsessed by the electronic, writes Johann Hari in The Independent: “The book – the physical paper book – is being circled by a shoal of sharks, with sales down 9 per cent this year alone. It’s being chewed by the e-book. It’s being gored by the death of the bookshop and the library.…

The Age of Distraction

We are obsessed by the electronic, writes Johann Hari in The Independent:

“The book – the physical paper book – is being circled by a shoal of sharks, with sales down 9 per cent this year alone. It’s being chewed by the e-book. It’s being gored by the death of the bookshop and the library. And most importantly, the mental space it occupied is being eroded by the thousand Weapons of Mass Distraction that surround us all. It’s hard to admit, but we all sense it: it is becoming almost physically harder to read books.”

Posted by Joel on June 29 2011 • Books

The Information Superhighway

Courtesy of James Fallows: The Net Needs the News

Posted by Joel on June 10 2011 • Journalism

In the Garden of Beasts

Erik Larson has a new book out and it is already atop the charts. I’m quickly trying to finish his nonfiction hit from a few years ago, The Devil in the White City, a huge bestseller about the murders that took place during the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Larson’s new book fashions the same literary nonfiction techniques to tell the story of the rise of Nazi Germany from the inside. It’s called In the Garden of Beasts. The description from Barnes and Noble:

"The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

“A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

“Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.”

For a review of the book in the New York Times, click here.

Posted by Joel on June 04 2011 • Books

The Article as Luxury

Here is an interesting take on the value the journalist brings to journalism. Is it storytelling? Or is the article itself--the finely crafted prose that brings the details into context--simply becoming a luxury by product?

In his blog post, Jeff Jarvis highlights a few episodes that have made him begin to question whether journalists should actually spend time assembling the details they collect in the field. He writes: “The coverage can come from a reporter and in some cases from witnesses’ cameras and quotes. The story can be written elsewhere by someone who can add value by compiling perspectives and facts from many witnesses and sources. It harkens back to the days of newspaper rewritemen (I was one).

“Carry this to the extreme — that’s my specialty — and we see witnesses everywhere, some of them reporters, some people who happen to be at a news event before reporters arrive (and now we can reach them via Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare….), some who may be participants but are sharing photos and facts via Twitter. Already on the web, we see others — bloggers — turn these distributed snippets into narratives: posts, stories, articles.”

He asks many important questions. Jarvis predicts that some specialization is likely to occur in the field--some reporters focusing more on the collection of details, while others thrive in assembling the collected material into useful narratives.

“The bigger question all this raises is when and whether we need articles. Oh, we still do. Articles can make it easy to catch up on a complex story; they make for easier reading than a string of disjointed facts; they pull together strands of a story and add perspective. Articles are wonderful. But they are no longer necessary for every event,” writes Jarvis. “Sometimes, a quick update is sufficient; other times a collection of videos can do the trick. Other times, articles are good.”

Posted by Joel on June 04 2011 • Journalism