Since there are some people who might be unfamiliar with what I mean when I say that the way works of art are lit and photographed are often racist, I’m going to take some pieces from this article in order to sort of illustrate more clearly what I mean.
For a bit of context: when I’m talking about “racism”, I am not talking about individual feelings or directed hate. I’m talking about racist structures divorced from intent; I’m talking about systematic and automatic devaluation in terms of aesthetics and the presentation of art.
In one of the first scenes of early Oscar favorite “12 Years a Slave,” the film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor , is seen at night, sleeping alongside a fellow enslaved servant. Their faces are barely illuminated against the velvety black background, but the subtle differences in their complexions — his a burnished mahogany, hers bearing a lighter, more yellow cast — are clearly defined.
The diversity of these films isn’t reflected just in their stories and characters, but in the wide range of skin tones they represent, from the deepest ebonies to the creamiest caramels.
The fact that audiences are seeing such a varied, nuanced spectrum of black faces isn’t just a matter of poetics, but politics — and the advent of digital filmmaking. For the first hundred years of cinema, when images were captured on celluloid and processed photochemically, disregard for black skin and its subtle shadings was inscribed in the technology itself, from how film-stock emulsions and light meters were calibrated, to the models used as standards for adjusting color and tone.
That embedded racism extended into the aesthetics of the medium itself, which from its very beginnings was predicated on the denigration and erasure of the black body. As far back as “The Birth of a Nation” — in which white actors wearing blackface depicted Reconstruction-era blacks as wild-eyed rapists and corrupt politicians — the technology and grammar of cinema and photography have been centered on the unspoken assumption that their rightful subjects would be white.
The result was that, if black people were visible at all, their images would often be painfully caricatured (see Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With the Wind”) or otherwise distorted, either ashy and washed-out or featureless points of contrast within the frame. As “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen said in Toronto after the film’s premiere there, “I remember growing up and seeing Sidney Poitier sweating next to Rod Steiger in ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ and obviously [that was because] it’s very hot in the South. But also he was sweating because he had tons of light thrown on him, because the film stock wasn’t sensitive enough for black skin.”
This is what I’m talking about when I discuss the way that these photographs of artworks are lit, and the way the photos are processed.
In the digital age, there is no reason that a photograph should look like this:
To try and show how deep this goes and how racism is built into the entire structure of too many mediums of artistic expression:
Montré Aza Missouri, an assistant professor in film at Howard University, recalls being told by one of her instructors in London that “if you found yourself in the ‘unfortunate situation’ of shooting on the ‘Dark Continent,’ and if you’re shooting dark-skinned people, then you should rub Vaseline on their skin in order to reflect light. It was never an issue of questioning the technology.” In her classes at Howard, Missouri says, “I talk to my students about the idea that the tools used to make film, the science of it, are not racially neutral.”
Missouri reminds her students that the sensors used in light meters have been calibrated for white skin; rather than resorting to the offensive Vaseline solution, they need to manage the built-in bias of their instruments, in this case opening their cameras’ apertures one or two stops to allow more light through the lens. Filmmakers working with celluloid also need to take into account that most American film stocks weren’t manufactured with a sensitive enough dynamic range to capture a variety of dark skin tones. Even the female models whose images are used as reference points for color balance and tonal density during film processing — commonly called “China Girls” — were, until the mid-1990s, historically white.
In the face of such technological chauvinism, filmmakers have been forced to come up with workarounds, including those lights thrown on Poitier and a variety of gels, scrims and filters. But today, such workarounds have been rendered virtually obsolete by the advent of digital cinematography, which allows filmmakers much more flexibility both in capturing images and manipulating them during post-production.
These biases are built into the very technology we’ve been using for a century or more. That’s why actively fighting the structures that are in place are necessary in order for changes to occur.
At Howard, Young says, “the question of representation was always first and foremost. . . . When bias is built into the negative, how does that affect the way we see people of color on screen? People like Ernest, Malik and A.J. [found] a sweet spot. There’s always an inherent bias sitting over us. We’ve just got to climb through it and survive, and that’s what’s embodied in the cinematography.”
THIS is what people mean when we say that racism is institutionalized. It’s not just an attitude, but an ingrained structure.
“Always re-examine and reflect on where you are in your career at least every two years. Even if you’re perfectly happy with your job, the exercise forces you to check that you are actually enjoying your work and learning on the job rather than just being comfortable.”—Successful founders share 4 must-have skills to bolster your career (via fastcompany)
When I was starting out, I used to think that I was the audience, and the goal was to please myself. Then I got some experience and realized that the client was the audience, and the goal was to please them. Of course, both of these things are sort of true, but basically wrong. I finally realized that the real audience were the people out there in the real world who were going to be stuck with whatever it was I was designing. A lot of time there is no one to speak for those people during the design process. The more you can be their advocate, the better the design will be. that’s not just the goal of identity design, but design period.
The biggest trap is to believe the brief you’re given is the whole story. It never is, and I repeat, never the whole story.
Concentrate on finding a big idea that will make an impact on the people you want to influence. The Ten Surprises, which I started doing in 1986, has been a defining product. People all over the world are aware of it and identify me with it. What they seem to like about it is that I put myself at risk by going on record with these events which I believe are probable and hold myself accountable at year-end. If you want to be successful and live a long, stimulating life, keep yourself at risk intellectually all the time.
Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life, and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible. Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them. Write op-eds and thought pieces for major publications. Organize discussion groups to bring your thoughtful friends together.
When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and will become a positive force in your life. Most people wait for others to prove their value. Give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path.
Read all the time. Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.
Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you’re sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.
Evolve. Try to think of your life in phases so you can avoid a burn-out. Do the numbers crunching in the early phase of your career. Try developing concepts later on. Stay at risk throughout the process.
Travel extensively. Try to get everywhere before you wear out. Attempt to meet local interesting people where you travel and keep in contact with them throughout your life. See them when you return to a place.
When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.
On philanthropy my approach is to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theatre and art museums have many affluent supporters, give the best parties and can add to your social luster in a community. They don’t need you. Social service, hospitals and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way toward the American dream.
Younger people are naturally insecure and tend to overplay their accomplishments. Most people don’t become comfortable with who they are until they’re in their 40’s. By that time they can underplay their achievements and become a nicer, more likeable person. Try to get to that point as soon as you can.
Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work. Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who support them. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level.
When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail. Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.
At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before. Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.
The hard way is always the right way. Never take shortcuts, except when driving home from the Hamptons. Short-cuts can be construed as sloppiness, a career killer.
Don’t try to be better than your competitors, try to be different. There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more imaginative.
When seeking a career as you come out of school or making a job change, always take the job that looks like it will be the most enjoyable. If it pays the most, you’re lucky. If it doesn’t, take it anyway, I took a severe pay cut to take each of the two best jobs I’ve ever had, and they both turned out to be exceptionally rewarding financially.
There is a perfect job out there for everyone. Most people never find it. Keep looking. The goal of life is to be a happy person and the right job is essential to that.
When your children are grown or if you have no children, always find someone younger to mentor. It is very satisfying to help someone steer through life’s obstacles, and you’ll be surprised at how much you will learn in the process.
Every year try doing something you have never done before that is totally out of your comfort zone. It could be running a marathon, attending a conference that interests you on an off-beat subject that will be populated by people very different from your usual circle of associates and friends or traveling to an obscure destination alone. This will add to the essential process of self-discovery.
Never retire. If you work forever, you can live forever. I know there is an abundance of biological evidence against this theory, but I’m going with it anyway.
Follow your own curiosity and say the most interesting stuff first. There is this weird idea of a “general reader,” who reads the New York Times and is equally interested in about 200 things (politics, peace in the middle east, pie, &c). I don’t think such people exist. And if they do, they are too busy reading the New York Times to read whatever you’re writing.
So forget that hypothetical reader and write about the things that are most interesting to you. Then, make it your mission to explain to readers why they should care about this thing you find interesting.
At the base of it, I guess I don’t believe in other people’s hierarchies about what’s important in the world. … And — this is one reason I love the web — all the analytics I’ve ever seen on my stories indicate that my own interest level and effort dictate what does well, *not* the subject matter.
What you read is important, but not all important. How you read is the main consideration. For if you know how to read, there’s a world of education even in the newspapers, the magazines, on a single billboard or a stray advertising dodger.
Th secret of good reading is this: read critically!
“Media people who feel smug because they have a Twitter handle, an about.me page, and 500 friends on Facebook often seem to think there is something magical about their ability to navigate social media. There’s not. Social media is easy to use, the barrier to entry is almost zero, and it’s not at all impressive in the larger realm of what constitutes “new journalism,” or whatever it is we’re supposed to call journalism that involves the use of Big Data and interactive infographics.
Journalism skills, however – those antiquated intangibles that fusty old out-of-touch Columbia tries to teach – are non-trivial. Journalists have to be able to not only write, but to also process and synthesize complicated ideas in a short time, structure narratives, master the art of interviewing, take notes really fast, self edit, research in places where others don’t think to look, speak truth to power, ask ballsy questions that might otherwise get their teeth smacked in, construct arguments, dismantle other arguments, see through bullshit, and think on their feet. You can learn those things by yourself through hard work and experience, but it’ll take more than 40 seconds.”—
FJP: We’d argue that Twitter and this overall social media thing takes more than 40 seconds to learn but Hamish’s argument against Michael Wolff’s criticism of the Columbia J-School — and its appointment of Steve Coll as its dean — is well worth the read.
it’s international women’s day. so to celebrate, here are my top ten favourite feminist books.
1. stiffed by susan faludi. it’s such a beautifully written book. shipyards, baseball, john wayne, rambo, the promise keepers, waco. this is in my top ten favourite books of all time. when we were writing the first album i took more ideas for lyrics from this book than anywhere else. i’d love to read it again.
2. heartbreak: the political memoir of a militant feminist by andrea dworkin. i remember i bought this in a second hand book store in lawrence, kansas, while we were on tour with james blunt. then i ended up reading this while we were writing the second album. i think a lot more of it influenced the words than i realised at the time.
“i have a heart easily hurt. i believed that cruelty was most often caused by ignorance. i thought that if everybody knew, everything would be different. i was a silly child who believed in the revolution. i was torn to pieces by segregation and vietnam. apartheid broke my heart… i can’t be bought or intimidated because i’m already cut down the middle. i walk with women whispering in my ears. every time i cry there’s a name attached to each tear.”
it’s inspiring and heartbreaking. read it if you haven’t.
3. the beauty myth by naomi wolf. this was a difficult one, i could have chosen misconceptions or promiscuities. both are amazing books. and i could have gone for the treehouse, because that’s often the one that i seem to come back to. but instead i’ve gone for the beauty myth. because i have.
4. living dolls: the return of sexism by natasha walter. along with ‘female chauvinist pigs’ by ariel levy, this has been one of the best books i’ve read in the last couple of years. when there’s a nail bar in a toy shop, what’s the best that anyone thinks will happen.
5. the bitch rules by elizabeth wurtzel. with chapter titles like ‘always keep your mind on how you feel, not on how he feels’, ‘be gorgeous’ and ‘don’t clear the table at a dinner party unless the men get up to help too’, i’m not sure if the advice in this pocket sized book was ever really aimed at me, but i’ve taken it to heart anyway at various points in my life. it’s a very peaceful and thoughtful book. kind of comforting and hopeful. she quotes ted hughes and bruce springsteen, and there is a chapter dedicated entirely to eating dessert. thinking about it, maybe this book was aimed at me.
6. riot grrrl: revolution girl style now! it’s sort of like a bible, but where calvin johnson is god and kathleen hanna is jesus. the greatest story ever told.
7. outrageous acts and everyday rebellions by gloria steinem. not so much a book, more a collection of articles and writing from the seventies and eighties. worth it if only for the chapter ‘i was a playboy bunny’. i remember a few years ago our manager emailed us saying we’d been asked to design a t shirt for playboy, something to do with a ‘rock the rabbit’ issue. i emailed back saying we would as long as we could work this andrea dworkin quote into the design, “politically, culturally, socially, sexually, and economically, rape and prostitution generated pornography; and pornography depends for its continued existence on the rape and prostitution of women.” we didn’t hear back.
8. backlash by susan faludi. it’s over twenty years old and it’s still completely relevant today. i hope she writes another book soon.
9. the scum manifesto by valerie solanas. i remember photocopying this book in it’s entirety after reading the quote on the sleeve to ‘stay beautiful’. it’s a brilliant, angry, often funny attack on men. it almost feels like a pastiche of a manifesto and all the more powerful for it.
“the male has a negative midas touch - everything he touches turns to shit.”
10. the female eunuch. i read it when i was about seventeen and i never saw the world the same way again.
“i’m sick of the masquerade. i’m sick of pretending eternal youth. i’m sick of belying my own intelligence, my own will, my own sex. i’m sick of peering at the world through false eyelashes, so everything i see is mixed with a shadow of bought hairs; i’m sick of weighting my head with a dead mane, unable to move my neck freely, terrified of rain, of wind, of dancing too vigorously in case i sweat into my lacquered curls. i’m sick of the powder room. i’m sick of pretending some fatuous male’s self important pronouncements are the objects of my undivided attention, i’m sick of going to films and plays when someone else wants to, and sick of having no opinions of my own about either. i’m sick of being a transvestite. i refuse to be a female impersonator.”
Benjamin Dreyer is the VP Executive Managing Editor & Copy Chief of Random House Publishing Group. Below is his list of the common stumbling blocks for authors, from A to X.
One buys antiques in an antiques store from an antiquesdealer; an antique store is a very old store.
He stayed awhile; he stayed for a while.
Besides is other than; beside is next to.
The singular of biceps is biceps; the singular of triceps is triceps. There’s no such thing as a bicep; there’s no such thing as a tricep.
A blond man, a blond woman; he’s a blond, she’s a blonde.
A capital is a city (or a letter, or part of a column); a capitol is a building.
Something centres on something else, not around it.
If you’re talking about a thrilling plot point, the word is climactic; if you’re discussing the weather, the word is climatic.
A cornet is an instrument; a coronet is a crown.
One emigrates from a place; one immigrates to a place.
The word is enmity, not emnity.
One goes to work every day, or nearly, but eating lunch is an everyday occurrence.
A flair is a talent; a flare is an emergency signal.
A flier is someone who flies planes; a flyer is a piece of paper.
Flower bed, not flowerbed.
Free rein, not free reign.
To garner is to accumulate, as a waiter garners tips; to garnish (in the non-parsley meaning) is to take away, as the government garnishes one’s wages; a garnishee is a person served with a garnishment; to garnishee is also to serve with a garnishment (that is, it’s a synonym for “to garnish”).
A gel is a jelly; it’s also a transparent sheet used in stage lighting. When Jell-O sets, or when one’s master plan takes final form, it either jells or gels (though I think the former is preferable).
Bears are grizzly; crimes are grisly. Cheap meat, of course, is gristly.
Coats go on hangers; planes go in hangars.
One’s sweetheart is “hon,” not “hun,” unless one’s sweetheart is Attila (not, by the way, Atilla) or perhaps Winnie-the-Pooh (note hyphens).
One insures cars; one ensures success; one assures people.
Lawn mower, not lawnmower.
The past tense of lead is led, not lead.
One loathes someone else but is loath to admit one’s distaste.
If you’re leeching, you’re either bleeding a patient with a leech or otherwise sucking someone’s or something’s lifeblood. If you’re leaching, you’re removing one substance from another by means of a percolating liquid (I have virtually no idea what that means; I trust that you do).
You wear a mantle; your fireplace has a mantel.
Masseurs are men; masseuses are women. Many otherwise extremely well educated people don’t seem to know this; I have no idea why. (These days they’re all called massage therapists anyway.)
The short version of microphone is still, so far as RH is concerned, mike. Not, ick, “mic.” [2009 update: I seem to be losing this battle. Badly. 2010 update: I’ve lost. Follow the author’s lead.]
There’s no such word as moreso.
Mucus is a noun; mucous is an adjective.
Nerve-racking, not -wracking; racked with guilt, not wracked with guilt.
One buys a newspaper at a newsstand, not a newstand.
An ordinance is a law; ordnance is ammo.
Palette has to do with colour; palate has to do with taste; a pallet is, among other things, something you sleep on. Eugene Pallette was a character actor; he’s particularly good in the 1943 film Heaven Can Wait.
Noun wise, a premier is a diplomat; a premiere is something one attends. “Premier” is also, of course, an adjective denoting quality.
That which the English call paraffin (as in “paraffin stove”), we Americans call kerosene. Copy editors should keep an eye open for this in mss. by British authors and query it. The term paraffin should generally be reserved for the waxy, oily stuff we associate with candles.
Prophecy is a noun; prophesy is a verb.
Per Web 11, it’s restroom.
The Sibyl is a seeress; Sybil is Basil Fawlty’s wife.
Please don’t mix somewhat and something into one murky modifier. A thing is somewhat rare, or it’s something of a rarity.
A tick bites; a tic is a twitch.
Tortuous is twisty, circuitous, or tricky; torturous is painful, or painfully slow.
Transsexual, not transexual.
Troops are military; troupes are theatrical.
A vice is depraved; a vise squeezes.
Vocal cords; strikes a chord.
A smart aleck is a wise guy; a mobster is a wiseguy.
“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”—Saul Bass
The New York Times:But the main attraction of the evening was the appearance of Mr. Obama’s lead character witness: the first lady, who, wearing a pink-and-gold-speckled sleeveless dress, was greeted with chants of “Four more years!” from the excited arena, to which she responded: “With your help.” (third para. by Jim Rutenberg)
The Atlantic:Those who are fans of the first lady will doubtless spend the next few days dissecting her patterned silk Tracy Reese frock, or her very high pink heels, or how she made them feel. But the first lady is no Barbie doll. What she is is a Harvard Law School-educated attorney playing dress up in America's most old-fashioned White House position. (second to fourth para. by Garance Franke-Ruta)
The New Yorker:Clad in a very pretty pink and silver dress designed by Tracy Reese, which showed off her well-toned arms, she appeared on the bright blue stage to a two-minute standing ovation. (sixth para. by John Cassidy)
Esquire:I sat with the Ohio delegation as she spoke, and I watched from close up as she went from one thing — a woman of glamor and poise, in a dress the color of sherbet and matching heels — to quite another, in the course of a single speech. (eighth para. by Tom Junod) | And when at last she returned to where she started — when she said that her "most important title is still Mom-in-Chief" — even her glamor was gone, for the glitter that everyone saw was no longer the sheen of her dress or the sparkle of her earrings, but rather the tears in her eyes. (penultimate para.)
“If you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24-7 coverage. Do everything you can to not make the body-count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. DO localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”—
FJP:The Guardian reports on both the success of print magazines, and the symbiotic relationship print and digital delivery can have for a brand. Here are some ideas from the article (http://bit.ly/Ke0hGj).
Marcus Webb:We want to make something which is treasured, which ends its days making the bookshelf, coffee table or toilet just that little bit prettier and more civilized.
Joerg Koch:You don't need print for news any more. But for long, visual-driven stories, it can offer a business model and an immersive focused quality that digital cannot offer yet.
Dave Eggars:To survive, the newspaper, and the physical book, needs to set itself apart from the web. Physical forms of the written word need to offer a clear and different experience. And if they do, we believe, they will survive.
Munro Smith:Computers and video games haven't killed physical toys and games, so there's no reason why the digital world should kill print. Lack of innovation or providing a poor product is far more likely to do that. The amazing range of technological opportunities that can be used to support and interact with print are definitely a bonus, not a threat.
“We decided to credit editors because they live and breath the stories they work on, and I felt that some kind of recognition was due. It’s really as simple as that. The kind of work they do varies widely from story to story, it’s very difficult to generalize. What makes our editors so good is they know how to do a light line editing, when that’s all that’s required, and they know how to wrestle something to the ground, when that’s what’s required. Usually, it’s somewhere in between.”—
I’m content to regard the Internet as the best and brightest machine ever made by man, but nonetheless a machine with a tin ear and a wooden tongue. It is one thing to browse the Internet; it is another thing to write for it.
We’re still playing with toys. The Internet is blessed with undoubtedly miraculous applications, but language is not yet one of them. Absent the force of the human imagination and its powers of expression, our machines cannot accelerate the hope of political and social change, which stems from language that induces a change of heart.
FJP:We've been reading different takes on digital social networks and how/if they impact solitude, loneliness, and offline socializing. Here is a mash-up of the conversations we've been following.
The Atlantic:Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill.
NY Times:New communications technologies make living alone a social experience, so being home alone does not feel involuntary or like solitary confinement. The person alone at home can digitally navigate through a world of people, information and ideas. Internet use does not seem to cut people off from real friendships and connections.
The Atlantic:We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.
Slate:Articles about American alienation may well feel true to those who long for simpler, happier times, but they’re built on fables and fantasies. In fact, there’s zero evidence that we’re more detached or lonely than ever.
The New Yorker:M.I.T. psychologist Sherry Turkle, takes issue with the basic promises of digital connection. She thinks that togetherness, far from being strengthened by technology, has been crowded out by “the half-light of virtual community.”
The Atlantic:But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years.
The New Yorker:Klinenberg’s research suggests that our usual perceptions about life alone get things backward. Far from being a mark of social abandonment, the solo life tends to be a path for moving ahead, for taking control of one’s circumstances. And, rather than consigning individuals to suffer in their solitude, aloneness may come at a cost to the community. The single life is inherently self-interested: it calls for vigilance on matters of self-preservation both large (financial autonomy) and small (dish detergent), and, in many cases, it frees the solitary from the sorts of daily interaction that help craft a sense of shared responsibility.
NY Times:The Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community Survey — a nationally representative survey of 2,512 American adults conducted in 2008 that was the first to examine how the Internet and cellphones affect our core social networks — shows that Web use can lead to more social life, rather than to less. “Social Isolation and New Technology,” written by the Rutgers University communications scholar Keith Hampton, reveals that heavy users are more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks; more likely to visit parks, cafes and restaurants; and more likely to meet diverse people with different perspectives and beliefs.
The New Yorker:Given our digital habits, the question isn’t whether we should use technology to ease our loneliness. It’s how.
FJP (Jihii):Ah, key question. So, where do we stand? I'll quote Michael.
FJP (Michael):What do I think about social media? For my personal use it’s a bit of a time suck and I have to remind myself to step away from it, head outdoors and wrap my mind around something more substantive than the flurry of information I find myself in. For professional use it’s integral to the FJP’s ability to build audiences and engage with them. I can’t think of how we would be able to accomplish what we do without it. Societally, I’m a big believer in tools and platforms that allow people to connect, organize and share information. Social media increases the speed with which people can do so more than any other tool in history. This is great. My fear with it though is that people will increasingly build information silos around themselves and only hear and expose themselves to information that they want to hear, and from a partisan perspective from which they’d like to hear it. (http://bit.ly/HsAnMN)
FJP (Jihii):So yes, the power is in our hands, social media users. How do you choose to use your social networks? I think the key point is to continually check ourselves and reflect on just that.
PS:Sorry for the lack of links. This post format won't allow it. Here are links to the articles. (Note that both the NY Times piece and Slate piece are by Eric Klinenberg.)
This post is part of “How We Will Read,” an interview series exploring the future of books from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. Read our kickoff post with Steven Johnson here. And check out our new homepage, a captivating new way to explore Findings.
Clay is one of the foremost minds studying the evolution of Internet culture. He is also a dedicated writer and reader, and it was natural that we would ask him to contribute to our series to hear what he could teach us about social reading. Clay is both brilliant and witty, able to weave in quotes from Robert Frost in one breath and drop a “ZOMG” in the next. So sit down and take notes: Professor Shirky’s about to speak.
How is publishing changing?
Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.
In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a Wordpress install.
The question isn’t what happens to publishing — the entire category has been evacuated. The question is, what are the parent professions needed around writing? Publishing isn’t one of them. Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers. Will we have a movie-studio kind of setup, where you have one class of cinematographers over here and another class of art directors over there, and you hire them and put them together for different projects, or is all of that stuff going to be bundled under one roof? We don’t know yet. But the publishing apparatus is gone. Even if people want a physical artifact — pipe the PDF to a printing machine. We’ve already seen it happen with newspapers and the printer. It is now, or soon, when more people will print the New York Times holding down the “print” button than buy a physical copy.
The original promise of the e-book was not a promise to the reader, it was a promise to the publisher: “We will design something that appears on a screen, but it will be as inconvenient as if it were a physical object.” This is the promise of the portable document format, where data goes to die, as well.
Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry.
What is the future of reading? How can we make it more social?
One of the things that bugs me about the Kindle Fire is that for all that I didn’t like the original Kindle, one of its greatest features was that you couldn’t get your email on it. There was an old saying in the 1980s and 1990s that all applications expand to the point at which they can read email. An old geek text editor, eMacs, had added a capability to read email inside your text editor. Another sign of the end times, as if more were needed. In a way, this is happening with hardware. Everything that goes into your pocket expands until it can read email.
But a book is a “momentary stay against confusion.” This is something quoted approvingly by Nick Carr, the great scholar of digital confusion. The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
Click through to read John Koblin’s piece on the new role editors have had to take on as magazines develop into multi-platform brands. Highlights below.
Some aren’t worried.
Everyone at Condé Nast is supportive of the most important thing — editorial freedom and independence — and, at the same time, I know that financial health is essential and so is getting our work to new readers through new technologies. Still, I don’t much love the talk of ‘brand’ and ‘brand managers’ — I prefer ‘the magazine’ and ‘editors.’ Harold Ross used to talk about The New Yorker as a cause and that’s what it is for me and for all of my colleagues.
-David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker
Some are a bit worried.
Journalism, photography, design, creative thinking, editing and packaging, they’re what drive it all; they require a great deal of care, thought and attention, and I don’t hear a lot about them these days. What I hear is ‘That’s great for the brand.’ No, that is the brand!
-Jim Nelson, Editor-in-Chief, GQ
The consensus: This isn’t a bad problem to have.
Even though it can be annoying to hear magazines talked about as brands — because magazines themselves are fantastic creatures and brands sounds a little more homogenized — they are brands. I’m just a big believer in a good editor to understand his or her reader and their needs better than anyone. I like the future of a magazine industry that puts editors in charge of directing their brands in partnership with publishers. Would any of us really want a world that those decisions are being completely made by people who are not relating to our readers?
Cindy Leive, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour
FJP: I’d like to pull a different question out of this debate, one related to a comment Nelson made when interviewed. He argued that editorial work suffers on account of the meetings that distract from it.
Meantime, magazine making? It’s become an assumption that that’s the easy part of your day; you’ve got that covered. But it has never been easy, and the day you take your focus off it is the day the magazine becomes less interesting. So yeah, I worry about ADD, about being spread too thin, absolutely. And sometimes I think we’re pushed to do too much with too little. And I’m concerned about stress levels, for quality-of-life and quality-of-job reasons but also because, crucially, you need mental space for creativity and excellence.
Mental space for creativity and excellence. I’m instantly reminded of a Digiday piece I read yesterday, on whether privacy or collaboration better fosters creativity. It referenced an earlier NY Times opinion on the same topic, in which Susan Cain wrote,
Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.
Now this isn’t completely related to the editor-turned-brand-manager dilemma, but it is some interesting food for thought. I think Nelson’s point about needing mental space for creativity and excellence warrants a lot of attention. That allotting time for non-editorial endeavors is crucial for the financial health of a publication is indisputable. But I do wonder what steps publications are taking to nurture the creative health of their content. —Jihii