One bespoke library please

A Saudi businesswoman wanted her London boardroom lined with books about the West’s engagement with Islam and the Arab world. The thousand-or-so books—a reader’s selection rather than a true collector’s library—cost £80,000.

A London bookseller reinvents itself as a purveyor of private libraries.

It takes all the fun of book collecting away. But it’s a brilliant idea by the bookseller.

Maybe other booksellers could come up with more accessible bespoke libraries?

A scenario:

‘I expect a child. Give me all the books I should read to him in his first ten years.’

‘That would be 400 euros please. We’ll deliver the books next week.’

(Via @thijsniks)

How to invest in growth according to Buzzfeed’s publisher Dao Nguyen

“When media companies think of growth, they tend to think of it as a marketing function. We talk about growth as a technology function—building tools and products, and making changes in your platform. That’s more lasting than a marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns end after you run out of money.”

I agree 100% with Buzzfeed’s publisher Dao Nguyen. She said this in an interview with Wired.

Some thoughts after 3.5 years of watching The West Wing

‘Did it make you a better person?’

That’s what a friend asked me when I had just finished watching The West Wing. It took me 3.5 years to watch all seven seasons (and I was already late to the party).

A couple of years ago, he told me he occasionally watched episodes before going to work. It gave him energy.

Before answering his question, this is what I learned from The West Wing:

  • Governing is hard. It’s easy to judge a president’s decision based on just one side of the story, as we all do on Twitter. But The West Wing made me realize how complex governing is.
  • Know and test your values. They will be challenged in ways you can’t imagine as soon as you gain influence.
  • Turn off your ego.
  • Campaigning is math.

I could go on for a while. These are just the first things that come to mind.

Then there’s the matter of working harder because of The West Wing.

I recognize this. I too want to make a difference after seeing Josh, Toby, Will, Charlie and CJ serving their fellow citizens. I too am determined to do everything in my power to use my talents to the best of my ability.

At the same time, there’s a danger in getting energy from The West Wing. It’s not hard to get motivated when you have to report to the Oval Office. When lives are at stake.

The West Wing can make your own work look futile. Especially when you’re the same age as Donna and Charlie. The trick is to get past this. To believe your work is already helping people too (and it probably does). And that you’re already giving almost everything you have. You can use The West Wing as an inspiration to give even more.

Journalists have recently wrote op eds that The West Wing is outdated. That we’ve seen our liberal dreams shattered to pieces with the Obama presidency (which I don’t agree with). House of Cards does a better job in showing how the world works, they say.

I think it’s hard to get more cynical than that.

The West Wing is a series about using your talents and making close to impossible decisions for the greater good. If I’ll try to live up to that, then yes, The West Wing made me a better person.

What’s next?

The ‘Everywhere’ Strategy

With De Correspondent, we publish our stories everywhere. Listen to our podcasts on our site, Soundcloud or iTunes? It’s up to you.

Recently someone made fun of our low YouTube numbers. ‘They invested all this money in a video and all they got was a couple of hundred views’. Well, he missed the thousands of views of the  Facebook video. Continue reading The ‘Everywhere’ Strategy

This blog is analytics-free

I’ve just removed my Google Analytics plugin.

Every time I published a post, I became obsessed with how it got picked up. Even when I didn’t care.

This article, for example, isn’t written to attract big audiences. My blog serves as a public notebook. It forces me to rephrase the incoherent thoughts in my mind into clear stories other people should understand.

But with the stats waiting there for me, I couldn’t resist checking how many people read along with my pondering about the future of publishing.

So I killed them.

Because the only metric that concerns me is how many new insights you and I get through this new blog.

Close The Door, Then Start Writing

I’ve just finished reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), a book about writing by Stephen King. Blogs like Brain Pickings often quote it. 

Stephen King On Writing book coverI only know Stephen King from the movie adaptations of The Shining, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption. But after reading On Writing, I feel like I’ve known King for ages.

He writes about his wandering youth, drug addiction and a near-death experience – caused by a guy who had a hard time driving a Dodge van.  King does this to show why he writes. ‘For the buzz’ and ‘as a spit in the eye of despair’.

These are the things I’ll remember after reading On Writing:

  • Shut the door. King stresses that you shouldn’t ask people to read along. It’s about your imagination and you shouldn’t worry about explaining the story at an early stage.
  • Write two drafts. Don’t edit while writing the first one. You’re trying to uncover a fossil; a story of which the first idea has popped up in your mind and that you should now try to grasp in its entirety. Just worry about the story.
  • Keep the first draft in a drawer for six weeks.  
  • In the second draft, look for meaning and ideas. Rewrite the story in such a way that your theme comes out more clearly for the future reader. 
  • Formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.
  • Alcohol and drugs won’t stimulate your creativity.
  • ‘Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.’


  • ‘God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just KNOW I could be penning my masterpiece’.

Without making any false promises – ‘a good writer will never become a great writer’ – King encourages you to start uncovering fossils.

Of course this is a terrible summary of a wise and warm book. Please just see it as a lengthy recommendation to read On Writing. 

If I’ll, one day, will want to write a work of fiction, I’ll definitely read this book again. 

But first, I’ll read at least one of Kings novels. When you’ve come to like a person so much in just a couple of evenings, you want to know what he has created. 

Stephen King – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)

Elizabeth Warren: ‘Enough is enough’

I’m just posting this video here for future reference.

Of course I had read the profiles about senator Elizabeth Warren, but after having seen this senate speech about the damning influence of banks on the US (and thus the rest of the world), I now truly understand what she stands for. And how she’s willing to get that message across.

Here’s the transcript of the full speech.  Continue reading Elizabeth Warren: ‘Enough is enough’

How To Collect Photos On Tumblr

Charles Bukowski kissing his typewriter, Hunter S Thompson firing a gun at his typewriter, or Nabokov dictating, while his wife handles the typewriter.

I collect photos of writers at work.

Just for fun, it’s a hobby. Since the summer of 2011, I’ve collected photos on Tumblr. At first, no one noticed. But then Salman Rushdie tweeted this: Continue reading How To Collect Photos On Tumblr

Ophan: An Inside Look Into The Guardian’s Analytics Tool

A journalist from The Guardian once showed me their in-house analytics platform Ophan. I was really impressed by its clarity.

Unlike Google Analytics – which has an interface that’s littered with features for analysts and marketers – Ophan is every man’s analytics platform.  Everyone at the company can easily access the tool, even on their phones.

Yesterday, published an extensive walk-through of Ophan and interviewed Chris Moran, the Guardian’s digital audience editor, about how it works. Continue reading Ophan: An Inside Look Into The Guardian’s Analytics Tool

Becoming the ultimate resource on a topic

“The biggest source of waste is everything the journalist has written before today”

Ezra Klein from wants his journalists responsible for constantly updating pages that are the ultimate resource on a topic.

He told this The New York Times a couple of months ago (I found the remark while researching the much applauded CMS of Vox Media, called Chorus).

I think Klein is right.

1. We’re bombarded with new headlines and clickbait all day (here’s why). Thus understanding the world a little less with each update.

2. We have the means to go beyond the format of a classic news article, which has literally been around for ages. Our shared goal is to inform readers to the best of our ability.

So how we can we build a publication around this mission? How can we, for example, put every update on Syria’s war in its right context?

A few challenges:

  • Most journalists are addicted to the thrill of publishing a new story (I know I was). Updating a page is a lot less glamorous and is a big step away from a journalist’s default modus: filing new stuff.
  • Inventing the right platform for this kind of journalism will need enormous investments and commitment from an ideologically-motivated senior management. This strategy doesn’t turn a profit within a couple of years.
  • People will laugh at you. Exactly like they’re laughing at Klein’s efforts now. “I expected so much from Vox, but all they’ve launched are card stacks“. Almost everyone will fail to see what you’re trying to build in the long run.

At De Correspondent, we’ll start building dossiers in 2015. These pages will be more than just a collection of links. We’ll use these to introduce people to bigger themes. Baby steps, but after 18 months of building a basic publication, we’re ready to take on Kleins challenge.

While keep you updated at this blog, of course. You can follow the journey through RSS or Twitter.

Update (13:08): This post by Jay Rosen elaborates on Ezra Kleins mission.

The Pain In E.B. White’s Here is New York

I finally got around to reading E.B. White’s famous essay about New York. He wrote it in 1949 for Holiday. This was a travel magazine for a generation that had just embraced both a post-war boom and the rise of commercial airlines. White wasn’t a traveler, so the magazine asked him to leave Maine for a couple of days to cover Manhattan, the city where he once used to live.

When the essay became a book, the hotel where White resided at the time of writing already disappeared. ‘Despite the mention’, White wrote in the book’s foreword. But he didn’t mind:

“To bring New York down to date, a man would have to be published with the speed of light [..]. I feel that it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.”

Ok Mr. White, I’m trained at doing this. Like everyone who has ever lived in New York, I have gotten used to the – sometimes painful – changes to the city.

An example comes to mind. An example that White might also have described in his essay. Because we’re both talking about an ex-speak easy around East 53rd street.

The cover of the first edition
The cover of the first edition

When I lived in New York in 2007, my roommate – a then 42-year old actress-turned-piano-teacher – often took me to bars she had frequented for decades. One of them was Bill Gay’s Nineties, a former speak easy where on Friday nights an Irish ‘piano man’ entertained the crowd. I met someone there I had dreamed of meeting for most of my teenage movie-watching years. Someone who had known The Old Italian New York. Then 83-year old Aldo Leone, greeter of the bar. We became friends for two nights (as I had to move back to Amsterdam soon after my first brawl at Bill’s Gay Nineties).

Every time I returned to New York, I visited Mr. Leone’s bar.

Until, in September 2012, only a faded sign proved that the building on 54rd street once hosted Bill’s Gay Nineties. The joint had disappeared. The bar’s website blamed the landlord. So did The New York Times. There’s no mercy in New York. A bar like that would be a monument in Amsterdam. But in New York, decades of history disappeared because a landlord wanted it that way.

New York comes with pain. With being uncomfortable. White writes how New York offers its visitors and inhabitants two gifts: loneliness and privacy. Then he says:

“The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin – the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”

And this pain comes with advantage too.

“I believe it has a positive effect on the creative capacities of New Yorkers – for creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.”

I’ve never had as many lonely evenings as I had during my stint in New York. But it was also during those months that I started blogging seriously. I interviewed for example, all Dutch correspondents in New York about their trade. By doing this, I laid the foundation for the career I’m so enjoying today.

White ends his book with impending doom. A fleet of bombers (a somewhat new phenomenon at the time) could wipe New York of the earth. But a couple of sentences later, he links it to a hopeful alternative: the construction of the United Nations building.

“The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.”

I’m going back to New York in February. Ready to embrace the delightful suffering White so elegantly described four years before my father was born.

E.B. White – Here is New York (1949)