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.
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.
For other news organizations looking for our lessons learned, the implications are clear. Most legacy news organizations continue to struggle with how to harmonize their print product with what they produce online (not to leave out their mobile apps). They grapple with what comes first – print, or online? Connecting the two together becomes a managerial struggle as both sides grapple with which element of the business should take the lead.
True/Slant offered up an alternative approach: a news organization could let neither side take the lead. Rather, news producers could use the online environment as a laboratory in which ideas for news-cycle-defining stories were experimented with, and later called up for the more refined and finished product. This possibility was demonstrated in Rolling Stone’s big get on the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. It was on True/Slant, for instance, that author Michael Hastings first contemplated aloud what role the general was playing vis-a-vis the White House in the prosecution of the war. Other examples abound.
As a homepage editor who spent so much time puzzling over how we’d keep the front of the site, and its constituent pieces relevant, I can only hope other news outlets will consider what we’ve done here as a model for what they’ll do next. Forbes is one of the news organizations that wants to embrace elements of this approach in its future. By acquiring our team, our ideas, and our technology, and working to figure out how to integrate them into Forbes as an organization, it makes what we did an unquestionable success.
What’s really going to happen now, I can’t tell you.
G-d willing, it will be great.
But in another sense, I personally feel some failure: all of our writers will not be making the transition over to Forbes with us. These are the people I’ve lost sleep over. For the past 15 months, I’ve had the joy of waking up every morning, and seeing what our writers, brimming with imagination, would come up with next. That I’ll no longer be editing so many of them saddens me. I just wish I could still pay them all to keep doing what they’ve done so well for months and months.
It’s been encouraging to see some of them with great plans on how they’ll innovate next if it’s not with Forbes. You can read a lot of the ‘adieu’ posts at this handy page we created. I hope readers will stay up with the ones who go to other places. I owe you all for all you did. Thank you.
True/Slant will be the second website where I am the last one out, switching off the lights and locking the doors. While that first one has sort of returned, this one will not. And it feels different, too, like a star that just ran out of fuel, where the reaction just stopped.
But like any large enough mass, it leaves a wake, forces of gravity that can’t be denied.
It also leaves a lot of gratitude that hasn’t been sufficiently expressed.
To the audience: superfans, trolls, single-visits alike, we literally couldn’t have done it without you.
Interns Kashmir Hill and Katie Drummond recruited some of our site’s best writers and produced some of the finest writing published on our site, too, before other companies deservedly kidnapped them from us. Also, interns Chloe Angyal and Logan Whiteside whose tenures with us were truncated by the acquisition here - if you’re hiring and paying, may I introduce you to these brilliant young women?
David Cautin and Drew Hansen helped make us a credible threat on the business end of things. I suspect a lot of the ideas they helped clarify will make a lot of money for Forbes.com.
Lewis and Coates, Andrea and Steve, you put me in news junkie heaven by making me the company’s 5th hire. It’s hard being in an office with walls, not seeing you feet from me at the next table.
Thanks to all the people at all the great blogs, aggregators, and social networking sites out there who showed us a lot of love with the linking on a regular basis. If I started naming you, this post would go on for another 500 words it can’t afford.
Last, family, friends, and other loved ones: thanks for putting up with me staring at my iPhone for a traffic update every 15 minutes, your patience as I’d mumble, “Hold on, breaking news, gotta update this” and avert my eyes down toward my computer screen. Looking back up again after 15 months, it’s my joy to see so many of you are still here as I set off on yet another adventure.
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.
First up was Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican who is Congress’s youngest member (and well known for not wearing a shirt). He judged the show’s ‘quickfire challenge’ in which he made light of the peculiar rules about how lobbyists can serve food to Members of Congress and their staffs. You know, the rules that make it harder for people with deep pockets to wine and dine their way into legislative victory. The infamous ‘toothpick rule’, which states that lobbyists can only serve bite-sized morsels and not full meals to Congress members, formed the basis for the competition. Schock, alongside Padma Lakshmi, effectively encouraged the chefs to jam as much pricey, fancy food as they could on a toothpick, so that lobbyists can still subtly buy nice meals for their good friends on Capitol Hill.
But it wasn’t only a Republican who was snacking in the shadow of prior unethical behaviors in Congress (such as the Charlie Rangel ethics committee hearing that’s going on today). No, Top Chef’s producers kept it bipartisan. Senator Mark Warner, freshman Democrat of Virginia, was a guest judge in the elimination challenge. He lunched with NBC media types like Joe Scarborough at The Palm, a DC steakhouse that could have been the inspiration for scenes you might have watched in the film ‘Thank You For Smoking.’ The chefs raced to cook their guests ‘power lunches’ – the kind where lobbyists talk Senators like Warner into relaxing some regulations and easing off on oversight if they’re hoping to get re-elected next time around.
The scenes were made ickier by the real life conflicts of interest posed by the two members turning up on an NBC Universal program. Senator Warner sits on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, which oversees the FCC, which regulates media companies like NBC Universal. Rep. Schock sits on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the House. Last year, the committee subpoenaed Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the scurrilous fameballs who crashed a White House party at the encouragement of their mercenary ‘Real Housewives of DC’ producers – a show that also airs on Bravo.
I hope that the cost of the meals the two Congress critters enjoyed are properly accounted and paid for. No good ever comes from the toxic mix of our political system and reality television’s simulacrum of American life. Especially when Congressional ethics are involved. Our political system is not a prop. A conflict-of-interest-free Congress is a bedrock goal of America’s constitutional dream, not a snack to be noshed on.
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?
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.
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.
It’s unquestionable that some damage will come to America’s war effort in Afghanistan as a consequence of the 92,000 documents that WikiLeaks dropped the other night. And the confirmation of existing reports showing that America believes there are extensive ties between Taliban fighters and Pakistani intelligence will cause some awkward conversations between officials in Washington and Islamabad.
But if the WikiLeaks docs were good news for the Taliban, you’d think they’d be confirming all of the contents, wouldn’t they? Not so, according to The Daily Beast’s Mushtaq Yusufzai:
Responding to WikiLeaks’ release of tens of thousands of pages of classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan, a high-ranking Taliban commander rejected reports that the Taliban had any links with Pakistan’s spy agency.
“Look, we’re at war and would like to get aid from anyone to fight against the U.S. and its allies who invaded our homeland,” Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, told The Daily Beast on Monday, denying any existing links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, known by its acronym ISI.
Haqqani goes on to play up US and NATO ‘atrocities’ and how incidents the documents might confirm help bring Afghan civilians over to the Taliban side. What he neglects, deliberately, is that appearing too cozy with the Pakistani side isn’t good for the Taliban’s cause either. Afghans don’t want to be under the thumb of NATO and America, but they also don’t want their country run as a satellite of Pakistan, a country whose decades of basketcase rule no one in the world aspires to resemble. Portrayal of the Taliban in Afghanistan as mere proxies for Afghanistan’s slightly less dysfunctional but militarily much powerful neighbor could help the government of Hamid Karzai and his American sponsors in ways the Islamists understand all too well.
A few readers of this blog might know that I have a background doing research on political affairs in Southeast Asia. I spent two years studying and developing a decent enough facility with Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca of the archipelagic nation that is the fourth largest country by population in the world. I even got a chance to use it while I was interning for the World Bank in Jakarta in 2005. And that’s why I find Norimitsu Onishi’s article in the New York Times warning that Indonesian kids don’t speak Bahasa anymore so weird. When I was in Jakarta, nobody really spoke capital-I Indonesian. Which leads me to wonder how much time Onishi has really spent using the language with everyone from the non-wealthy to the well-to-do in Jakarta.
Here’s the nut of the story:
“They know they’re Indonesian,” Ms. Sugiarto, 34, said. “They love Indonesia. They just can’t speak Bahasa Indonesia. It’s tragic.”
Indonesia’s linguistic legacy is increasingly under threat as growing numbers of wealthy and upper-middle-class families shun public schools where Indonesian remains the main language but English is often taught poorly. They are turning, instead, to private schools that focus on English and devote little time, if any, to Indonesian.
For some Indonesians, as mastery of English has become increasingly tied to social standing, Indonesian has been relegated to second-class status. In extreme cases, people take pride in speaking Indonesian poorly.
What’s so wrong about this article is its conclusion that Indonesian is becoming ’second-class.’ If you spend enough time around actual Indonesians, you start to understand that Bahasa Indonesia has always had a second-class status.
The article goes through the familiar history of the language – that the Dutch chose it as the language of colonial administration. What it leaves out is that part of the reason for doing so was that it was a relatively easy language for anyone to pick up. Its relative simplicity is an important fact when you contemplate the number of languages spoken across the Indonesian islands, as well as the complexity of some of the major tongues like Javanese and Sundanese with their caste-oriented manners. Insisting that other ethnic groups of Indonesia speak these languages would have caused an immediate breaking point for a massive civil war. Which is why the Dutch first, and subsequently the founders of the Indonesian nation selected Bahasa, a relative of Malay that already served as a trading language,
That’s why everybody in Indonesia speaks Indonesian, but no one really speaks Indonesian. In Jakarta, you’ll find kids speaking a pidgin, a mash-up of Javanese, Betawi, and Bahasa Indonesia. When they hear your intermediate Indonesian, they start chuckling as you use formal pronouns like saya and anda for ‘I’ and ‘you’ because they use more informal and even slang elements of the language in their daily communications. The formality that you might hear coming out of President Susilo Bambang Yudohoyo’s mouth in a major speech or read in formal government publications, the kind that Onishi’s article laments, doesn’t really exist in daily communication in a marketplace or at home for most of Indonesia’s 250 million people with their hundreds of native languages.
Moreover, this isn’t a language known primarily for its beauty – for instance, it’s hard to imagine anyone telling you that you really haven’t read Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet unless you read it in Indonesian, the way Russophiles talk about Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. Fittingly in the series’s first novel, This Earth of Mankind, Pramoedya’s colonial-era protagonist Minke is scolded by his mother for writing newspaper articles in Dutch because they aren’t written in her native language – Javanese. While Pramoedya wrote in Bahasa Indonesia, he did so because it was the language of the times – his works like those of the Dutch author Multatuli might have been composed in that language had he written them in an earlier generation.
So it’s certainly true that Indonesia needs a working lingua franca so that a Javanese housewife can transact business with a Buginese hawker in a district on the outskirts of Jakarta. But it’s not like a decline of the most formal, proper Indonesian would represent the decline of one of the world’s most elegant languages. Bahasa Indonesia has always been a language of function more than a language of form. If English begins to take on that function, it’s not like it will be the end of Indonesia. The peoples in that country, educated or dirt poor, will continue speaking their mother tongues while finding a language that allows them to communicate in spite of their legion linguistic differences.
As much as Professor Thompson is a fan of the show, “I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with her,” he said. The fact is, Snooki is much more interesting as a character than she is in any other context. “We don’t even know how to define what Snooki is so good at,” he said. He thinks she has a “delicious artlessness,” an unprocessed quality.
Remember when I asked whether or not we want to get to know the ‘real people’ behind our favorite acts?
When it’s not an act, we want to know even less about it. And this is kind of the bummer of the reality TV-era. Celebrities used to be heroes – that’s why they were ’superstars.’ Now you can’t really call them that, because there’s nothing ’super’ about them. They’re just like everybody else, just like dumb you and me, a mirror image of ourselves on the screen that we look at for comfort, in place of something magnificent to which we aspire.
Following up on my blog post earlier this week, it would appear to be closer to confirmed that BP is attempting to set up a graceful exit for yacht-loving, personal-time-needing CEO Tony Hayward. BBC says he’ll be out in 24 hours, confirming my theory that the petroleum giant is seemingly ‘manufacturing good news’ in advance of the company’s Tuesday earnings report.
Somewhere along the way, BBC’s reporting goes from straight-up to funny, noting how likely Hayward successor Bob Dudley is more amenable to Americans on account of his lack of an Oxbridge accent. No, really:
The man expected to replace him, Bob Dudley, took over the day-to-day operations in the Gulf of Mexico last month.
Many say that, from a public relations point of view, Mr Dudley has the advantage of being American and speaking with an American accent.
He grew up in Mississippi and, according to BP, has a “deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast”.
Ha, indeed, it’s the English accent that’s the problem! Check it out:
Because if “I’d like my life back” came out of the mouth of a southern-fried cracker, some son of Dixie, I’m sure people who were outraged about the potential environmental ruination of the Gulf of Mexico would just say, “aw shucks, BP, you guys just keep on trying to plug that hole, we don’t really need oysters or marine life or oil-free beaches.”
Meanwhile, back in the world of really bad news, reports appear to indicate that some crew on the Deepwater Horizon had bypassed certain safety functions in advance of the explosion that caused the spill. And the best bets appear to be that the leak will be sealed off only in mid-August.
In other words, BP would love to talk about anything other than how the effort to stop the spill is going! Smell ya later Tony Hayward!
Remember when our Julia Ioffe picked up the Russian media that was suggesting that America might want to take a page from the Soviet Union’s history books and nuke the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to cut off the oil spill once and for all?
That was some fun Internet times. But back in reality, we have some indications that it is actually a terrible idea. In 1969, as part of its program of ‘peaceful nuclear explosions’, the government exploded a large nuclear bomb 8,000 feet below a mountain near Parachute, Colorado. They were trying to liberate natural gas, but all they ended up doing was irradiating it. And now oil companies want to try drilling again, and locals are not happy according to Catherine Tsai at the AP:
Four decades later, energy companies are drilling near the nuclear site as they look to tap Colorado’s lucrative oil and gas reserves. Some local residents say they don’t trust the industry after what happened here and in the Gulf of Mexico during the oil spill. They’re fearful that accidents could pollute the air with radioactive gas if drilling gets much closer.
“I’m not 100 percent sure that the gas industry or the oil industry is careful enough, or has enough plans in place, that if something happens like the oil spill that I would be safe,” said Parachute Town Trustee Judith Hayward, who owns half the mineral rights in a 40-acre no-drill zone at the site of the nuclear experiment.
Locals are also quick to mock the idea floated during the Gulf oil spill to close the breached well with a nuclear bomb. Engineers tried a nuke in the course of energy exploration here, and it didn’t turn out as expected.
Funny: the Soviets used nukes to close off oil and gas leaks, we used nukes to secure oil and gas supplies. Communism vs. capitalism defined!
(Nevermind, I’m sure the Soviets used nukes for oil and gas exploration, too. Then again, the Soviets used nukes when they had trouble uncorking a bottle of vodka…)
More seriously, it’s worth considering that no mind was ever paid to environmental issues by the Soviet Union. The natural world they controlled was meant only to serve the Soviet people (or its military). That’s how they dried up entire lakes and created such gnarly genetic disorders for some of their people. We made our own tries at it, but we backed off when we realized the danger it exposed our natural environment to (sadly, this also meant we outsourced a lot of our nuke testing to the South Pacific).
Anyways, it seems to me that any idea that makes us more like the Soviet Union, well, those ideas aren’t really good ones, are they? And this article only goes to prove the point. Officials say that a disaster of the type imagined by locals is unlikely. That’s what they said about the Deepwater Horizon going down, too.
I am a former Usenet star, and a home page producer at NYTimes.com. Before that, I was the homepage editor and lead blogger or 'Senior Producer' for True/Slant, which Forbes acquired in May 2010, and then I worked as a consultant to Forbes.com. I've also written and edited for the Village Voice, RawStory.com, the Huffington Post, and the New York Sun.