Wijlen Gawker vond het ‘internetschrijven’ uit

Gawker – de Amerikaanse blog der blogs –  bestaat niet meer. De site publiceerde in 2013 een fragment uit een sekstape van Hulk Hogan, waarin de worstelaar racistische uitspraken doet. Hogan klaagde – met behulp van internetmiljardair en Trump-aanhanger Peter Thiel – Gawker aan. Met succes, want Hogan mag uitzien naar een schadevergoeding van 140 miljoen dollar. Gawker heeft nu al haar andere sites noodgedwongen verkocht en de moedersite is gesloten.

Wat gaat mij zo’n Amerikaans blog aan, denk je nu misschien. Continue reading “Wijlen Gawker vond het ‘internetschrijven’ uit”

Deze jongedame van The New York Times leest alleen blogs als ze post-its in huis heeft

Mijn favoriete rubriek uit The Atlantic Monthly is ‘media diet‘. Daarin vertellen indrukwekkende types als scenarioschrijver Aaron Sorkin, New Yorkse bloggertycoon Nick Denton, New Yorkse bloggersheld Choire Sicha, auteur Malcolm Gladwell en Madeleine Albright over hun mediadieet. Ik vind het fascinerend om te lezen hoe Sorkin de kranten scant en hoe hij op bloggers neerkijkt, en hoe de oprichter van The Huffington Post en Buzzfeed (ja, deze man begrijpt wat klikt) zich dagelijks door tientallen blogs heenploegt en het nut van schattige hondjes in de media toelicht.

Ideaal om doorheen te browsen op zondagmiddag – hopelijk brengen ze er nog eens een bundeltje van uit – maar voor eentje wil ik nu alvast je speciale aandacht vragen. Jenna Wortham, technologieschrijver van The New York Times, vertelt hoe ze elke morgen naar 8th Avenue reist en daar verplicht alle techblogs doorneemt voor haar werk.

Deze dame tackelt heel slim een probleem waar ik al jaren last van heb. Ik volg een stuk of zeventig blogs, lees deze twitterfeed trouw en krijg linkjes binnen via Brainsley. Maar ik heb het gevoel dat ik ze me alleen maar tot me neem, en niet de grote lijnen zie. Even snacken en weer doorgaan. Wortham heeft een uitstekende oplossing. Zij pakt er pen en papier bij:

I’m invisible on Gchat for an hour or so while I have breakfast and skim my trades — Hacker News, Reddit, GigaOm, The Verge, Gizmodo, BetaBeat, BuzzFeed FWD, TechCrunch, Techmeme, All Things D and The Atlantic Wire. During the week, I need to get in and out of the news efficientially. While I skim, I take notes the old-fashioned way: With a fine-point Sharpie and a stack Post-it notes. I do a lot of pattern matching — emerging themes among new start-ups, the types of companies that are getting funded, a VC or entrepreneur catches my eye — and make a note or a list, and I keep these in a row on my desk for easy reference. For my beat, I need to see what new service or app is bubbling up and pay attention to how people are using the web, their mobile devices and new technologies, but it can often take awhile for things to catch on, so I’m constantly monitoring for that groundswell when a new service or behavior breaks out beyond my professional and social circle and starts to catch on in a bigger way. I often take photos of these handwritten notes and file them in a separate folder on my iPhone for easy perusal later.

,,I can definitely be an analog girl in a digital world”, zegt Worham, and I salute her for that. Lees hier het hele interview voor nog meer mediatips van deze dame. Dan ga ik nu post-its inslaan. Schrik niet van alle Grote Lijnen die je binnenkort op deze blog ziet terugkomen.

Schrijf al je ideeën in een spark file op

Als ik vertel dat de uitvinders van Blogger.com en Twitter een nieuw plan hebben, let je wel extra op toch?

Mooi, want hun nieuwe idee is nogal vaag. Medium heet het. De heren willen dat we stoppen met tekst te behandelen alsof we het nog altijd alleen op papier afdrukken, terwijl dat internet nu al een tijdje meegaat. Een nobel streven. Niet heel bescheiden ook. Ze erkennen zelf gelukkig dat de mensheid er eeuwen over gedaan heeft om de boekdrukkunst onder de knie te krijgen. Hun missie heeft dus wat tijd nodig.

Het tweede probleem: het is nog totaal onduidelijk wat Medium moet worden. Als je nu naar hun prachtig vormgegeven site gaat, zie je de eerste schetsen. De enige verandering die ik er nu bespeur is dat hun bloggers niet meer kriskras door elkaar over willekeurige onderwerpen publiceren, maar artikelen netjes rubriceren in ‘collecties’. Neem The Writer’s Room, een collectie van Steven Johnson, redacteur bij The New Yorker en schrijver van het boek Everything Bad is Good for You (2006), waarin hij betoogt dat populaire cultuur ons slimmer maakt.

Johnson plaatst zijn schrijftips – verpakt in rustig geschreven essays – op Medium.com. Het is een genot om ze te lezen. Continue reading “Schrijf al je ideeën in een spark file op”

The blogger and the murderer – an interview with Choire Sicha

Amsterdam-based bloggers Tim de Gier and Ernst-Jan Pfauth took up a month-long residency in New York to interview their favourite bloggers about that one book they cannot live without. Episode 1: Choire Sicha. Location: the tucked-away bar Má Pêche in Midtown Manhattan. Book: Janet Malcolm – The Journalist and the Murderer (1990).

„Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Choire Sicha (40) shows the opening line of The Journalist and the Murderer (1990) on his iPhone. The co-founder of The Awl and former editor of Gawker warns the non-fiction work by Janet Malcolm ‘gets darker from there.’

Janet Malcolm - The Journalist and the Murderer„The Journalist and the Murderer is the most influential book for people who do what I do”, says Sicha, „I have a bunch of friends who read it every year.” It’s Janet Malcolm’s take on the relationship between an army officer who is thought to be guilty of killing his family and the journalist he hires to guarantee his innocence. The men live together and eventually become friends during the court case in 1979. Sicha: „But then, the book comes out and it’s this shocking indictment of how the army officer did kill his family. He was completely betrayed by the journalist and the book cements his reputation as a murderer.”

Eleven years after the case, Malcolm argued that the journalist hoped to have found his Perry Smith – the murderer in Truman Capote’s notorious novel In Cold Blood (1966) – but soon discovered his subject was actually a very dull man. To save his book, the journalist allegedly decided to accuse the army officer of being a ‘pathological narcissist’ and a murderer.

„I often profile people for magazines and one of the things I take from Malcolm’s book is being superconscious about what you know and what you assume about your subject. So, if I were to interview you, we would have an engagement, a personal involvement. I’d ask you all these personal questions and then, I could basically betray you and write down my coloured version of everything I thought about you. The book is a reminder about the fact I’m continuously selling people out.”

The old puppy dog called Gay Talese

When Sicha first read The Journalist and the Murderer, he wasn’t a journalist yet. „I guess I always wanted to be a writer, but in the US journalism is very much a middle and upper class profession. I didn’t go to college, so I had no way in.” But when blogging gained popularity, Sicha zealously adopted the novel medium and soon edited New York’s most popular blog, Gawker. He quit in 2008 to start his own publication, The Awl, where high and low culture are ingeniously combined. Sicha tore down the walls of the journalism establishment and was soon a household name in New York’s media industry. He has never met Malcolm though. „I’ve always wanted to.” But Sicha, who isn’t typically afraid of literary giants – he calls Gay Talese ‘such an old puppy dog’ – admits he’s frightened of Malcolm’s reputation.

„I’m a huge fan of her writing and read everything by her. She’s interested in psychotherapy and isn’t afraid to talk in a very funny way about her own assumptions, misguidances and blind spots. She values logic highly. In her latest book Iphigenia in Forest Hills (2011), she relentlessly looks at the logic of both parties in a Queens murder case. Together with Joan Didion and Renata Adler, Malcolm forms the pillar of non-fiction.”

These days, Sicha doesn’t have much time to read books anymore. But when he does, he’s into science fiction. „Even Jennifer Egan plays with science fiction now. It’s not just the losers anymore.” He recommends Ursula Le Guin. Sicha reads from his iPhone. “I’ve always got my library with me, plus, it’s more convenient in bed. At some point I fall asleep and my phone automatically puts itself to sleep as well. No book hits my face.”

It’s a dude’s world

So far, Sicha hasn’t recommended any male writers. „I actually almost never read men.” He argues that the women of Malcolm’s generation all had to work three times as hard to get their slots at the magazines and newspapers. „They were actually fundamentally better because they had to work a lot harder ” New York still is a place for ‘dudes’, says Sicha. „Most men only read men. If you look at the founders of [New York literary magazine] N+1, they all live in a boy’s society. Chad Harbach, Marco Roth, Keith Gessen and Benjamin Kunkel; all these dudes hang with dudes, publish with dudes and don’t seem comfortable with working with women. It’s becoming less of a guy’s gang, since I think they’re actively trying to break themselves from that habit. But overall it seems hard for straight people to get along in America. There aren’t many places where they’ve learned to talk and hang out as equals. So the guys get all nervous and sweaty, and the women get annoyed. It’s a mess. It’s funny. At The Awl, women write half of the pieces. We’re pretty careful.”

For all the female writers Sicha mentions, there’s none who is not in her seventies. „There’s a mid-career problem which happens a lot”, says Sicha, „So you’re hot and famous in your twenties and thirties. But when you’re forty through sixty, that’s it for you. Then suddenly in your seventies you’re revered. You have this body of work behind you everyone loves, but in between it’s just toil.”

Choire Sicha
Choire Sicha

‘Thirty-year’ old blogger working on a book

Sicha is forty years old, so is he heading towards temporarily obscurity as well? „People think I’m younger. Why would someone who is forty have a job blogging? I just pretend I’m thirty.” It helps Sicha looks merely thirty and his now three-year old blog The Awl gains popularity. Together with co-founder Alex Balk he’s fighting the dumbness of the blogosphere. Hence the ‘be less stupid’ tagline, Spartan layout, small headlines and the odd mixture between 2000-word essays and one sentence posts. „We’ve turned into a business lately”. Their two-room office houses several employees. Sicha, being modest about his success, considers it ‘boring’ and ‘sad’ they’re ‘not just a blog anymore’. He still hacks his own WordPress themes though.

When Sicha is not blogging, he’s writing a piece of text that will not instantaneously hit the web: a book. „In 2009, I followed a group of four friends around in New York City, to see how they were coping with the crisis.” Reporting, writing and editing cost him a year each. You’ll be able to read it in 2013. Sicha remembers his own younger years in New York as ‘amazing and terrible at the same time’. „You have to live of four dollars a day and you’re continuously confronted with how much money everybody else has. Somehow it always seems other people have more opportunities. Then again, New York also gives you things. You’ll be invited to someone’s amazing party and meet the most bizarre people. Then the dark times will subside and you’ll tell everyone the old days in New York were better. Your amazing time will be behind you. 2012 is someone’s amazing time right now. It’s just not mine.”

Apps and their ‘native advertising’ ambitions

Most of these “apps” currently have a huge ton of money behind them, and a lot of resources, and this money-making idea will be a second-wave scheme for them. (If you look at the job titles at a place like Branch, you’ll notice that none of them have “business” or “revenue” in them.) I mean that’s kind of wonderful, that people get to grow and build like that! But when they get to it, if they don’t cook up some wacky subscription model or something surprising (I won’t rule that out!), they’ll likely be running advertising that has a high opportunity to be deceptive—or at least, intrusive in a way that no display ad could ever be.

Choire Sicha from The Awl about apps and their ‘native advertising’ ambitions. Is is better to have flashy ads than ads that aren’t intrusive but nobody recognizes as ads anymore?

My takeaway: try to come up with a business model as soon as you start building. Sure, anticipating uncertainty is almost impossible, but it’s better than not thinking about revenue streams at all.

Schokkend: er worden ook nog zinnige dingen over curatie gezegd

Sommige curators (twitteraars die linken naar de pareltjes van het web) etaleren soms op ongenadige wijze hun arrogantie:

En daar worden andere twitteraars dan weer heel boos over. Zoals Choire Sicha: ,,More likely you’re a low-grade collector, not a curator.” Etcetera.

Gelukkig zijn er ook mensen die de behoefte voelen om waarde aan de discussie toe te voegen. Continue reading “Schokkend: er worden ook nog zinnige dingen over curatie gezegd”

Creëer af en toe wat

Elke paar jaar lees ik een zelfhulpboekje van Hugh MacLeod. Deze bebaarde Texaan was ooit een verveeld reclameman in New York en tekende ’s nachts in de kroeg op visitekaartjes. Toen kwam er zoiets als het internet langs en daar zette MacLeod zijn tekeningen op. Nu is hij een gevierd cartoonist die bekend staat om zijn fenomenale bullshitdetector en sarcastische punchlines:

MacLeod leeft van wat vroeger zijn hobby was en om andere creatievelingen een soortgelijk geluk te laten ervaren, schrijft hij zelfhulpboekjes met titels als Ignore Everybody. Ze zitten vol met open deuren, maar die worden zo overtuigend dichtgetrapt dat het me energie voor een maand oplevert. Zijn laatste epistel – Freedom is blogging in your underwear – kan ik in één zin samenvatten: „Just worry about MAKING your own stuff, and the rest of the Internet will look after itself.” MacLeods punt: leuk hoor, dat je grappige YouTube-filmpjes op Facebook post, maar zou je niet eens iets creëren wat je langer dan vijf minuten werk kost? Iets waar je over tien jaar nog steeds trots op bent? Verdomme, je hebt gelijk, Hugh. Continue reading “Creëer af en toe wat”