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Jakes+hotdogs_olympia

Olympia scene, 4th street, August ’14.

Problems with the “bucks for clicks” model of journalism

I like Virginia Postrel‘s take on the recent controversy over at Forbes.com. A popular author, Bill Frezza, published a controversial column on that website – advising university fraternities to beware of female students who show up at their parties drunk – and was fired. Comments Postrel:

What has drawn little comment is the business model that produced a journalistic fiasco. Forbes.com (not to be confused with the print magazine) is a publication that acts like a platform. It hires columnists, gives them a general turf, tells them to write and post pieces, and pays them by how much traffic they attract. Unlike a traditional publication, it doesn’t spend money on having editors review the topics or articles beforehand.

In the traditional model, Frezza’s article either would have had the backing of the publication–which would have stood up for it–or it would have never seen the light of day. If the argument seemed beyond the pale, an editor would have said, “No thanks. What else do you have?” There would have been no public blowup and no firing. One way or another Forbes.com would have taken responsibility. (As anyone who reads Forbes.com knows, its lack of editorial oversight extends to basics of proofreading.) Forbes.com’s business model has been successful in a tough environment, but it presents editorial perils.

Under the new model, columnists have to guess what readers will find interesting and they also have to guess what editors will find a firing offense. They are expected to internalize vaguely defined standards and self-censor accordingly.

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Addendum: Other, very bad problems with this model: (1) Authors are financially punished for writing stories that take a long time to report or that are important-but-boring; (2) livid, invidious opinion is likely to generate more “clicks” than researched journalism; (3) writers must now aim to please rather than to inform their readers.

Back in the day, Sports sections, for example, subsidized important-but-boring stories about school-board meetings and treaty negotiations among Asian nations. No more, alas. – 18 October

Mike Niman on capitalism and contagion

Professor Mike Niman’s new column ripples with that combination of pessimism and winsomeness that has long characterized his philosophical and prose styles. An brief excerpt:

Medical research is expensive and usually driven by private investment, which is drawn to profit, not service. Hence, while Malaria continued to devastate the third world, and Ebola lay in hiding like a time bomb, the medical industry mostly ignored both, putting money into more profitable pursuits such as developing erectile dysfunction drugs for octogenarians.

With corporate research money heading toward more profitable products, fighting diseases like Ebola is left to the public sector. Across Africa, where colonialism plundered resources and neo-liberalism saddled governments with structural debt, the public sector isn’t too robust, often unable to provide basic infrastructure for potable water or education. Developing an advanced medical research sector ain’t happening. This leaves the continent at the mercy of American and European philanthropy, which often seems drawn more to sexier or trending causes, like saving wildlife or hating the eminently hateable Joseph Kony.

First world apathy toward Ebola continued even as the current epidemic unfolded over the last six months, eventually spreading to seven counties, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea hit the hardest. A month ago, the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director, General Bruce Aylward, declared that the Ebola epidemic has become a health crisis “unparalleled in modern times.” That means, since the Black Death ravaged Europe and the holocaust of European diseases decimated native America.

Aylward asked for one billion dollars to combat the epidemic. To put this number in perspective, that’s $400 million less than Fracking magnate and uber sports fan Terry Pegula paid last week to buy the Buffalo Bills.

The Incomplete Man

Jonathan Mayhew has long been one of my favourite people … and favourite writers. Last week in his blog he made this remarkable admission:

I have a piece missing from my self. I am sure a lot of people feel the same way. I know others don’t: their self is complete. They could feel happy, or unhappy, in particular situations, but their self is basically a complete entity. In the same way, I can feel happy, or have good day, but that doesn’t mean I am a complete person. …

I have no idea of why I feel this way, but I almost always have felt so. I cannot even complain about it, because I’m assuming the a certain percentage of people walking around on the street are in exactly the same position as I am. In fact, it gives me some satisfaction to let you all know that this is the way I feel. I will no longer pretend to be a complete person.

Professor Mayhew’s self-awareness and honesty have always moved me.

Bad Apologies

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who works for NBC news, had an especially vivid one today. Ordered to remain in quarantine by the CDC after being exposed to Ebola, she was spotted out and about in the city of Newark with other members of her NBC crew.

After driving to a New Jersey restaurant and violating her 21-day Ebola quarantine, NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman is now [back] under a mandatory quarantine.

While covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia earlier this month, a freelance photographer working with Snyderman and an NBC News crew was diagnosed with the virus. Ashoka Mukpo was brought back to the United States for treatment, and Snyderman and the rest of the team also returned to the U.S. and quarantined themselves.

But Snyderman was seen outside of the Peasant Grill restaurant last week, TMZ reports, sitting in the back seat of her Mercedes. …

[Snyderman was quoted as saying the following:]  “As a health professional I know that we have no symptoms and pose no risk to the public, but I am deeply sorry for the concerns this episode caused. We are thrilled that Ashoka is getting better and our thoughts continue to be with the thousands affected by Ebola whose stories we all want to cover.”

She wants to reassure the world that *she* is – that is, *seems* – perfectly healthy (not realizing, or forgetting, that the problem with her violating quarantine was that she put the health of *others* at risk). The parting point – that the Ebola outbreak is a story “we all want to cover” – might have just been poor wording, but is nonetheless … vile … who *wants to cover* such a vicious epidemic?

Dear doctor, I am truly sorry that you effing offended *me*.

I Held Your Hand

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