Happy 200th birthday, Grauniad

The first edition of The Guardian came out on this day in 1821.

The Guardian celebrates 200 extraordinary yearsThe Guardian
To highlight its legacy of bringing facts to light and championing progressive ideas, the Guardian is launching a special 200th birthday brand campaign based around the central idea ‘A work in progress since 1821’.

It goes without saying that it looked very different back then, and was only 7p, but I didn’t realise the front page would just be ads until as late as 1952.

The Guardian’s first ever edition – annotatedThe Guardian
Ads on the front page, news on the back, and a frankly unbelievable story about a ghost: the Manchester Guardian’s first edition on 5 May 1821 is full of gems.

Update 14/05/2021

Couldn’t help adding this here.

Typo negative: the best and worst of Grauniad mistakes over 200 yearsThe Guardian
Sometimes the red pen must take itself to task. In 2007 it blushed: “We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and clarifications column on September 26.”

Could be worse, though.

The most expensive typing error ever?The Spectator
Nasa’s missing hyphen; the extra ‘s’ that could cost £8.8 million; and recipes for disaster.

Things are looking up #6

I’m sure President Biden has enough on his to-do list at the moment to be giving Space Force and the politics of space much thought, but this new book from Benedict Redgrove might spark some enthusiasm.

Benedict Redgrove’s intimate photography book lands us inside the world of NASAIGNANT
Redgrove has been fascinated by space suits and shuttles since he was a young man. “The image of the astronaut or spaceman has been with me ever since, as a sort of talisman to all that is great and good,” he shares. “They symbolize the explorer, the hero, the good character, the leader. The spacesuit takes on that character, the suit and the human become one entity, more powerful than either on their own.” Combining his fascination with space technology with his interest in photography, the British creative took on the challenge to document America’s home of space-based research and development in intimate detail. Redgrove spent almost a decade working on the project, negotiating access and forming relationships with NASA, researching, investigating, and producing over 200 images of NASA’s facilities and the many objects that made their space travel imaginable and possible.

The engineering involved in landing on the moon was incredible. To fully appreciate that, I think I need to add this epic piece of journalism to my reading list.

Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman MailerPenguin Random House
For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportageThe Guardian
In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.”

That line about the poor quality visuals (deliberately poor, apparently) not matching the scale of the achievement reminded me of Brian Eno’s dissatisfaction with the audio, the chatter of the experts obscuring the event’s grandeur and strangeness.

Of a Fire on the Moon was first published across three issues of Life magazine (much like John Hersey’s Hiroshima, published in its entirety in The New Yorker in 1946), and is yours in book form for a tenner or so. Or, if you want to spend a little more…

Of a Fire on the Moon; $112,500 coffee table editionWikipedia
The 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing was marked in 2009 by the release of an abridged, limited edition of the text, re-packaged with images from NASA and Life magazine. This production retitled the work, MoonFire, and was presented in an aluminium box with a lid shaped like the crater-pocked surface of the Moon; the object was mounted on four legs resembling the Apollo Lunar Module’s struts. Thus, the coffee table book came inside its own lunar-themed “coffee table”, with an uneven surface (see photograph). The package included a numbered print of the famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, framed in plexiglass and signed by the astronaut himself—and enclosed a lunar meteorite. Only 12 were created and the price was $112,500.

Still waiting

Well, it’s just gone 13:15 GMT and there’s no clear winner — or even a consensus on where we are. The BBC are saying it’s currently 224 to Biden and 213 to Trump …

… whereas The New York Times have Biden at 227 …

… and The Guardian have him at a lofty 238.


Still not enough yet, though. The wait continues. Here’s a summary.

Update 05/11/2020

A helpful clarification from the BBC.

US election 2020: Why do different news sites have different tallies?BBC News
This is because some news sites have projected wins in Arizona (meaning an extra 11 electoral college votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral college votes) for Joe Biden. The BBC still considers these too early to project. … In Wisconsin, 99% of the votes have been counted, with the candidates neck and neck. In Arizona, 85% of votes have been counted, and Biden is leading with 51% of the votes, with Trump on 48%.

Either way, it’s a day to remember

After a long build-up, the USA has finally reached election day.

US election: A wild three-year campaign in three minutesBBC News
Billions of dollars spent, dozens of candidates, two nominees, one pandemic. What started with a little-known congressman in the summer of 2017 ended as the most expensive US presidential election of all time. It featured 26 candidates for the Democratic Party nomination, the first black and Asian-American woman vice-presidential nominee, and some other historic firsts.

Now we just have to wait.

You’re waiting for election results. It’s agony. Here’s what to do.The New York Times
All elections elicit this feeling to some degree. But the 2020 contest has raised the stakes, adding looming threats of disinformation and interference, contested results and a president who has repeatedly antagonized a deeply polarized electorate. It is an extremely stressful moment. The best description I’ve seen of our collective anxiety was from Mother Jones editor in chief Clara Jeffery: “The entire country is awaiting a biopsy result.”

For posterity, here’s the latest forecast from The Economist.

Forecasting the US 2020 electionsThe Economist
Our final pre-election forecast is that Joe Biden is very likely to beat Donald Trump in the electoral college.

We’ll have to wait and see. Are you staying up?

US election 2020 guide: what time results are expected – and what to watch forThe Guardian
Just like that, things get exciting. The 7pm hour [midnight GMT] sees most polls close in the titanically important state of Florida, which counts votes quickly – except when it doesn’t. As results begin to come in, look for election wonks (here’s a Twitter list) to begin raising their eyebrows significantly at whether Trump is matching his 2016 margins in this county or that. This is when election night can really start to feel one way or the other, so, expect emotions.

I think I might stay away from the TV till it’s all over.

‘It’s not up to him’: how media outlets plan to sidestep any Trump ‘victory’ newsThe Guardian
The president’s reported intention to make a premature – and potentially false – victory speech by the end of Tuesday night, with large numbers of mail-in ballots yet to be counted, has provoked intense journalistic debate. TV channels would be under pressure to air such an event on grounds that it is “news”, while aware that it amounted to dangerous misinformation that could stir violence across the nation and undermine the democratic process.

And I don’t expect social media to be any better either.

What to expect from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on election dayThe New York Times
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were misused by Russians to inflame American voters with divisive messages before the 2016 presidential election. The companies have spent the past four years trying to ensure that this November isn’t a repeat. They have spent billions of dollars improving their sites’ security, policies and processes. In recent months, with fears rising that violence may break out after the election, the companies have taken numerous steps to clamp down on falsehoods and highlight accurate and verified information.

But will it be enough?

What social media companies have fixed since the 2016 electionOneZero
Over the past four years, the major social platforms have reluctantly acknowledged that they have a role to play in preventing blatant abuse and exploitation of their platform by obviously bad-faith actors, and they’ve taken real steps toward addressing that. Halting, often confusing, and in many ways unsatisfying steps, but real steps nonetheless. … But reining in the most obvious and clear-cut abuses does very little to change the overall impact of social media on political discourse.

Whoever wins, things are different now.

How Donald Trump changed the internetThe Atlantic
But even though online life has changed for the better in at least a few tangible ways, it still feels bad—and Trump has made sure of that. We know how to describe a deluge of disinformation, but generally we can’t personally stamp it out. We can recognize the absurdity of the president tweeting over and over, in all caps, from a hospital, but we can’t do anything but gesture at it with a weak “???” We expect to see politicians making gross jokes about one another now, which are usually not even funny. We’ll continue to live this way whether Trump wins or loses.

Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Need something to read?

In this age of 24-hour, panic-driven, conflict-addictive news content designed just to be clicked on, glanced at and forgotten, here’s an archive of journalism worth spending some time with.

The Stacks Reader
The Stacks Reader is an online collection of classic journalism and writing about the arts that would otherwise be lost to history. Motivated less by nostalgia than by preservation, The Stacks Reader is a living archive of memorable storytelling—a museum for stories. We celebrate writers, highlight memorable publications, honor notable personalities, and produce interviews with writers and editors and illustrators in the hope of offering compelling insight into how journalism worked, particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.

For those of you with a little more time on your hands, perhaps you want to settle down with a good book.

Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right nowCNET
The Internet Archive will suspend its waiting lists for digital copies of books, as part of its National Emergency Library. “Users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized,” the organization said in a blog post last week.

The decision comes as schools around the country are shut down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as it’s become more difficult to get goods of all kinds. The post noted that many people can’t physically go to their local libraries these days.

More open eBooks: routinizing open access eBook workflowsThe Signal
We are excited to share that anyone anywhere can now access a growing online collection of contemporary open access eBooks from the Library of Congress website. For example, you can now directly access books such as Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and Youjeong Oh’s Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place from the Library of Congress website. All of these books have been made broadly available online in keeping with the intent of their creators and publishers, which chose to publish these works under open access licenses.

Or if you fancy something older and more visual, check out this remarkable archive from the Cambridge Digital Library.

There’s so much in here, I’m having trouble deciding what to highlight.

Newton PapersCambridge Digital Library
Cambridge University Library is pleased to present the first items in its Foundations of Science collection: a selection from the Papers of Sir Isaac Newton. The Library holds the most important and substantial collection of Newton’s scientific and mathematical manuscripts and over the next few months we intend to make most of our Newton papers available on this site.

something-to-read-2

Sassoon JournalsCambridge Digital Library
The notebooks kept by the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) during his service in the British Army in the First World War are among the most remarkable documents of their kind, and provide an extraordinary insight into his participation in one of the defining conflicts of European history.

something-to-read-3

It’s not all scans of historic documents, however.

Department of Engineering Photography competitionCambridge Digital Library
The annual Department of Engineering photo competition highlights the variety and beauty of engineering. For many people, engineering conjures up images of bridges, tunnels and buildings. But the annual University of Cambridge engineering photo competition shows that not only is engineering an incredibly diverse field, it’s a beautiful one too.

something-to-read

Christian Hoecker – Carbon Nanotube WebCambridge Digital Library
This fibrous material is made of self-assembled carbon nanotubes. The diameter of each nanotube is more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

A vaccine for the infodemic?

The pandemic continues its roll around the globe.

Apple reopens all 42 China stores after virus closuresBloomberg
Since shutting the stores, Apple gradually reopened them and 38 of the 42 stores were operating as of last week. The final four will open their doors on Friday local time, according to Apple’s website.

Amazon asks all employees to work from home, if they canTechCrunch
Amazon employs some 798,000 employees. While some Amazon office workers will be able to work from home, the vast majority of its workforce have jobs that require them to be on site. The company is reliant on tens of thousands of delivery drivers and employees who work at the more than 100 order fulfillment centers.

This morning’s Next Draft newsletter had a raft of scary headlines on the subject. Here are just two. They’re behind paywalls so I can’t go any further, but it’s not a pretty way to start the day.

‘Italy has abandoned us’: People are being trapped at home with their loved ones’ bodies amid coronavirus lockdownThe Washington Post

Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from spaceThe Washington Post

It’s tempting to switch off from it all, but that would be a mistake—we need to know what’s going on, but not all news reports are created equal.

Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands cleanThe Conversation
Instead of the top-down information flow of years past, governments and other figures of authority today find themselves having to react to situations created by non-professional media outlets in a bottom-up fashion. The issue with non-professional reporting versus the traditional media is that the motivations of the content creators are not always obvious: biases are unclear and quality control is largely absent.

With dire consequences.

[C]ookies and social media algorithms help to intensify the echo chamber of fear by showing online readers more of what they’ve already clicked on. The online world suddenly becomes entirely coloured by COVID-19 coverage, and the sheer amount of reporting overshadows the fact that people have a very low chance of catching the virus and if they do, they have a very high chance of a complete recovery.

Yet many people are living in fear for their lives. Entire industries, including tourism, transportation and education are suffering huge losses, companies are going bankrupt, and people are losing their jobs. Fear is being perpetuated by the wearing of masks in public, despite health authorities pleading with people not to do so.

Racism is rearing its ugly head as people begin to judge others’ likely degree of contagion by their appearance. Supermarkets are being stripped of toilet paper, pharmacies of antibacterial liquid. In many places, panic has set in.

So pack it in—you’re probably not using enough of that stuff anyway—and don’t believe everything you read.

Amazon flooded with self-published coronavirus booksThe Guardian
The retailing giant has already been removing “tens of thousands” of listings from “bad actors” attempting to artificially raise prices on items such as face masks and hand sanitiser. Now it is fighting a losing battle against the writers rushing out self-published books to profit from coronavirus fears. Generally shorter than 100 pages, dozens have been published in the last few weeks, promising worried readers ways to prevent or avoid the virus.

We need to stick to the official advice, however weird it looks.

Coronavirus fears have led to a golden age of hand-washing PSAsNPR
The rapid spread of the new coronavirus has health officials scrambling to educate the public on good hygiene and best practices. And the need to communicate those messages has resurrected a classic art form: the public service announcement, or PSA. Because the coronavirus is a global concern, video PSAs are emerging from all corners of the globe, all at once.

Let’s end with a golden oldie.

Coughs, sneezes, and jet-propelled germs: Two public service films by Richard Massingham (1945)The Public Domain Review
The first film featured here, Coughs and Sneezes from 1945, begins with a comic montage of practical jokes. “You may have met a few people who like doing this sort of thing,” the narrator says, as we watch a series of people be bonked on the head, tripped, or knocked head over heels; “they’re a nuisance, I agree — but pretty harmless.” The scene then turns to another kind of nuisance, which isn’t harmless at all: a man who sneezes without covering his mouth. This danger to society is promptly hauled into a room for instruction in proper use of his handkerchief and, in a follow-up film, Don’t Spread Germs (Jet-Propelled Germs) from 1948, further instructed in how to properly clean his handkerchief — in a bowl of disinfectant separate from the family wash.

Top flight fakery

A while ago I shared news of the world’s first AI presenter. And there’s lots here about fake news. But what about taking deepfake-style technology to produce true news?

Reuters uses AI to prototype first ever automated video reportsForbes
Developed in collaboration with London-based AI startup Synthesia, the new system harnesses AI in order to synthesize pre-recorded footage of a news presenter into entirely new reports. It works in a similar way to deepfake videos, although its current prototype combines with incoming data on English Premier League football matches to report on things that have actually happened. […]

In other words, having pre-filmed a presenter say the name of every Premier League football team, every player, and pretty much every possible action that could happen in a game, Reuters can now generate an indefinite number of synthesized match reports using his image. These reports are barely indistinguishable from the real thing, and Cohen reports that early witnesses to the system (mostly Reuters’ clients) have been dutifully impressed.

top-flight-fakery-1

(via Patrick Tanguay)

Update 26/02/2020

Just found another example of a deepfake video being used in a, if not true, at least positive sense.

We’ve just seen the first use of deepfakes in an Indian election campaignVice
When the Delhi BJP IT Cell partnered with political communications firm The Ideaz Factory to create “positive campaigns” using deepfakes to reach different linguistic voter bases, it marked the debut of deepfakes in election campaigns in India. “Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before,” Neelkant Bakshi, co-incharge of social media and IT for BJP Delhi, tells VICE. “The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.”

Just what we need, more news

Via a Ben Evans newsletter, news of a new news aggregator from News Corp called ‘Knewz’.

Start spreadin’ the KnewzNews Corp
“Knewz is unique in that readers can, at a single glance, see multiple sources. It is not egregious aggregation but generous aggregation. There are mastheads from across the political and regional spectrum, and premium publishers will not be relegated in the rankings,” said Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp.

Knewz.com works by combining cutting edge, proprietary artificial intelligence with experienced editors. The technology constantly scans hundreds of real news sources, and editors curate a selection of headlines that provide a broad perspective on stories of the day.

Of course they mention artificial intelligence. But there’s more.

“Readers will have access to publishers large and small, niche and general, located in all 50 states,” said Mr. Thomson. “We live in a world of vexatious verticals, of crass clickbait, of polarized perspectives and fallacious, fact-free feeds – Knewz is knowing and needed. Knewz nous is in the house.”

Do people really talk like that? I guess they’re trying to compete with Google News, but I think the look of it is a bit shouty and off-putting.

news-1

Twitter news echoes

Grumpy old man alert! I know everyone uses Twitter to find news these days, but I can do without news organisations passing off as news what’s simply a report on what’s been said on Twitter. Hashtag: lazy-journalism-question-mark; hashtag: these-are-not-slow-news-days-after-all; hashtag: 24-hour-news-filler-I-can-do-without; hashtag: yes-I-know-hashtags-don’t-work-like-this.

Trump’s new Space Force logo looks awfully familiar to Star Trek fansThe Verge
Although, as one user on Twitter noted, the designers did seem to take some cues from the NASA logo, predominantly the exact placement of the stars that appear to have been copied over directly.

Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over ‘missing’ Oxford commaThe Guardian
“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me”.

Broadcasters speak up for Alastair Stewart after ITV News exitBBC News
ITV presenter Julie Etchingham wrote on Twitter: “So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.”

Time to take Media Studies seriously

There’s nothing new about fake news and misinformation, now. These topics are part of our landscape, unfortunately, and we must do our best to deal with them. A thorough understanding of the media is needed now more than ever.

Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in SchoolsNational Literacy Trust
[T]he final report from the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools, published on 13 June 2018, found that only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake. It also found that almost two-thirds of teachers believe fake news is harming children’s well-being by increasing levels of anxiety, damaging their self-esteem and skewing their world view.

Only 2%? That’s shocking.

Why media education in schools needs to be about much more than ‘fake news’The Conversation
A growing number of educators, policy makers and third-sector groups are calling for news and critical digital literacy to be taught in schools, with over half of teachers reporting that the current national curriculum does not equip pupils with the literacy skills they need to tackle fake news.

In its final report on Fake News, published in February 2019, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reiterated its calls for digital literacy to be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths. But thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s not just our young people that need upskilling in this area, of course. Remember that photo of the boy lying on the floor of the LGI during the election campaign?

‘Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night’ – An open letter from our editor to youYorkshire Post
Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with. Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop up on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.

So much to read, so little time

Somhow Robert Cottrell, the man behind the Browser newsletter, manages to read almost the entire web every day, in order to find and share the best with his thousands of subscribers, including me.

The man who reads 1,000 articles a daySuperorganizers
But the verb ‘to read’ isn’t exactly right to describe what he does. Ingest is a little bit closer. But it doesn’t quite hit it on the nose, either. Ingestion implies that what he’s doing is a mechanical, rote activity. No, Robert Cottrell eats articles. With gusto and verve.

It’s encouraging to learn he uses some of the same tools I use for this blog—Feedly and Pinboard.

Feedly is an RSS reader for the iPad that aggregates all of the articles I want to read from publications I’ve selected. Currently, I’ve got about 700 RSS feeds in my Feedly — meaning it’s aggregating about 700 publications for me every day. […]

I follow quite a lot of people on Pinboard, and so between MetaFilter and Pinboard that adds about another 360 posts a day to the feed.

I have a similar, albeit much reduced, system here, though I can only snatch a few moments each day on it.

Something I worry about with all these feeds and newsletters and blogs that I look through to find things to share here is FOMS, Fear Of Missing Something. When there’s so much to read you have to skip through a lot, and leave many articles unread. But what if you missed something really interesting, something worth highlighting and sharing?

You just have to let it go, I guess, and move on. It’s ok.

We need some new news

2019 has been an … interesting year for political news reporting and current affairs.

What we learned about the media this electionThe Guardian
The British public were more than capable of creating their own disinformation. Ahead of the election there were concerns about foreign manipulation of the electoral process. Although there were some issues – the prime minister refused to let a report into Russian money be released pre-election, and Reddit suggested a Russian-linked account may have helped distribute leaked US-UK trade papers – ordinary, politicised Britons proved more than capable of creating their own fake posts.

Looking forward to 2020, here are 10 themes for newsNew York Times
People crave transparency. Similar to the shift we’ve seen in the farm-to-table movement around food sourcing and production, people want to know what goes into news production. In dozens of conversations with people around the world, we heard that people want more than just the story: they want to know why it’s being told, who is telling it and how it came together. News consumers want to pull back the curtain to understand why a headline was written a certain way, or why a particular story was featured over another on a home page. They want to know that specific information was verified by multiple sources, or that reporters pored over thousands of pages of documents for a particular story.

The public hears claims of “fake news” just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it.

It’s not all bad news, of course.

99 good news stories you probably didn’t hear about in 2019Future Crunch
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

But even here, we need to be careful.

The year in good news 2019 (and the bad news about good news)Kottke
But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

Let’s see what the new year has in store.

It’s not all bad news

I think I might not bother keeping up with current affairs for a while, it’s all too ridiculous. Basically, another prime minister, another deal, another vote.

How much of Johnson’s ‘great new deal’ is actually new?
As MPs prepare to vote on Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, Guardian analysis shows that less than 5% of the original deal has been renegotiated, despite it being rejected by parliament three times.

not-all-bad-news

Another lost vote.

‘House of fools’: how the papers covered Johnson’s latest Brexit defeat
Newspapers cast prime minister as either a fighter or a loser, with plenty of anger directed at Parliament, too.

not-all-bad-news-1

This current prime minister seems as prime ministerial as that president is presidential, i.e. not much.

Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
Rather than writing one letter to the European Union, Johnson has sent three – almost. The first is less of a letter: rather an unsigned photocopy of a portion of of the Benn Act. Rather than asking for an extension on behalf of Johnson, the text merely points out that the Benn Act requires the government to seek an extension. After this, it adds that “if the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. In what seems a fit of pique, and reinforcing his determination simultaneously to write and refuse to write to Brussels, the prime minister declined to actually sign the missive.

Remember all those flow charts trying to explain how we might leave, back in March and April? Back to the drawing board with all those.

Brexit: What happens now?
It’s not clear that the whole process will be completed by 31 October. The government will seek to pass a “programme motion” to limit the length of debates in the House of Commons. MPs could reject that, though, and the bill must also pass through the House of Lords.

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And it’s not just the British press that’s struggling with politics.

Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today
Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

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But what we need to remember is, if we step back from all this, it’s not all bad news. We just need to look in the right places.

Beautiful News
A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful.

We’ll be releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention beyond dramatic news headlines to the slow developments and quiet trends that go unseen, uncelebrated.

Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.

It’s the new initiative from David McCandless and his Information is Beautiful team. Here’s an example.

Everyone, everywhere is living longer
One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the increase in life expectancy. In 1960, the average life span was 52.6 years. Today it’s an impressive 72 years. The reasons are simple: improvements in child survival, expanded access to healthcare (including widespread vaccination), and people being lifted out of extreme, grinding poverty.

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And another.

More Afghan girls are being educated
Educating girls is probably the single most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. Women who spend longer in school have fewer, healthier and better-fed children, are less likely to die in childbirth, contribute more towards a country’s economy, participate more in politics, and are less likely to marry young or against their will.

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Just two of dozens of uplifting stories. I know which news website I’d rather read.

Update 22/10/2019

I should, of course, have added some links to Hans Rosling’s work after that.

Bill Gates on Factfulness
Bill Gates recently read Hans Rosling’s new book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” In it, Hans offers a new framework for how to think about the world.

And here’s Hans in his own words about the need for fact-based optimism.

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

Googling Boris

Google turned 21 the other day. According to a Google search, Boris Johnson is 55.

Is Boris Johnson really trying to game Google search results?
One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results by using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive. For instance – the hypothesis goes – by saying he was the “model of restraint”, Johnson was attempting to divert attention from stories detailing his alleged affair with former model Jennifer Arcuri, which became less visible in search results for “Boris Johnson model”.

His speech in front of the police was meant to distract from reports that the police were called to the flat he shared with girlfriend Carrie Symonds following an alleged domestic dispute, while the kipper incident was meant to downplay connections with UKIP (whose supporters are called kippers). The claim about painting buses, finally, was supposedly intended to reframe search results about the contentious claim that the UK sends £350 million to Europe branded on the side of the Brexit campaign bus.

“It’s a really simple way of thinking about it, but at the end of the day it’s what a lot of SEO experts want to achieve,” says Jess Melia of Parallax, a Leeds-based company that identified the theory with Johnson’s claim to paint model buses.

But, as that article from Parallax goes on to explain, this could all be coincidental nonsense.

Boris Johnson: the unlikely SEO strategist
And yet, all that being said, perhaps we’re giving him too much credit here. Maybe, when questioned, he was merely grasping for something other than “running through a field of wheat”. Or maybe he was simply staring out of the window and saw a bus go past. Or perhaps he really does enjoy making model buses out of crates.

Complete and utter genius, or an accidental fluke? Whatever you think, it’s certainly made one thing happen for Boris – we’re all talking about him. Again.

Damn. Now I am, too.

Political persuasion 2.0

I’ve been enjoying (if that’s the right word) Wired UK’s recent articles on how technology is being used against us.

A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page
Other debates revolve around the Brexit jargon and the page’s 19-word-strong glossary. Is Leaver the best way to refer to Brexit supporters, or is Brexiteer more common? And is “Remoaner” the remain-supporting version of “Brextremist” or is the latter somehow nastier? A recent question on the Brexit talk page, where editors discuss changes to the article, raises another question about the term Quitlings. Is it something to do with quislings, and if so, shouldn’t the glossary mention that? For now, the consensus is that yes, it is a reference to the Norwegian Nazi sympathiser Vidkun Quisling – whose name has evolved into a synonym for traitor – but that the term isn’t widely used enough to justify including it in the article.

The Brexit Party is winning social media. These numbers prove it
The extraordinary level of this online engagement is inextricable from the populist nature of Farage’s message. “Polarised content does brilliantly, hence Farage has significantly more reach than any of the main political figures of the UK,” says Harris. “His content will receive significant numbers of shares, comments (both positive and negative) and likes and negative dislikes, and will have more organic reach than content from mainstream political parties that people like to see in their timeline but don’t like or comment on it because they passively agree with it.”

The EU elections are next week. Fake news is not the problem
Information operations are rarely about changing the things people believe, but changing the way they feel. Anger and fear are not things we can correct with better facts. As we head into the EU election, this fact should be at the forefront of our minds. Media monitoring is vital, and the work of fact-checking organisations to identify, correct and call out false information is a necessary and valuable part of this. But it is crucial that we look beyond the accuracy of the news, and zero in on how the media ecosystem as a whole is being manipulated. Inflammatory trending stories, harassment of journalists, feverish online debates – the public discourse behind all of these is being pushed and prodded by those who want to see us angry, divided, and mistrustful of each other.

The secret behind Gina Miller’s anti-Brexit tactical voting crusade
Miller’s Remain United campaign uses a technique called multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) to analyse polling data and identify which Remain-supporting party stands the best chance of winning seats in the European elections on May 23. Remainers are encouraged to vote for those parties in order to secure a sizeable pro-EU representation from the United Kingdom in the European parliament.

Don’t believe all you read

Imagine being one of the journalists, editors or fact-checkers at Der Spiegel, the German weekly news magazine, when this article was being produced, having to own up to this catalogue of failure.

Claas Relotius reporter forgery scandal
It has now become clear that Claas Relotius, 33 years old, one of DER SPIEGEL’s best writers, winner of multiple awards and a journalistic idol of his generation, is neither a reporter nor a journalist. Rather, he produces beautifully narrated fiction. Truth and lies are mixed together in his articles and some, at least according to him, were even cleanly reported and free of fabrication. Others, he admits, were embellished with fudged quotes and other made-up facts. Still others were entirely fabricated. During his confession on Thursday, Relotius said, verbatim: “It wasn’t about the next big thing. It was the fear of failure.” And: “The pressure not to fail grew as I became more successful.”

Story after story is dissected, and lies revealed. The consequences and implications for journalism worldwide are already being played out.

Trump ambassador uses Der Spiegel fabrication scandal to take aim at journalists
Grenell also got into a debate with a correspondent for the German public broadcaster ZDF, whom he told to “stop defending fake news and fabricated stories.”

“We do,” the correspondent, Andreas Kynast, wrote back. “Do you?”

The hidden lives of ordinary things

I’ve just found a new (to me) corner of the web, full of interesting things to read.

Object Lessons
Object Lessons is an essay and book series published by The Atlantic and Bloomsbury about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from sardines to silence, juniper berries to jumper cables.

Each Object Lessons project will start from a specific inspiration: an anthropological query, ecological matter, archeological discovery, historical event, literary passage, personal narrative, philosophical speculation, technological innovation—and from there develop original insights around and novel lessons about the object in question.

I love that domain name. Some of the essays I’ve bookmarked to catch up on later include:

How the 50-mm lens became ‘normal’
It’s often called the optic that best approximates human vision, but approximation is relative.

The case for locking up your smartphone
Lockers and sleeves for phones can feel like an infringement on personal rights, but they also might save people from their worst habits.

How the index card cataloged the world
Carl Linnaeus, the father of biological taxonomy, also had a hand in inventing this tool for categorizing anything.

And this poignant, tricky one, too.

Why it’s okay to throw your children’s art away
There’s a moment when a child first presents you with her art, holding it out with the last split second of attention she can muster after completing it. That moment contains a burst of pride on both your parts, and a frisson of mutual love. But in the end, your pride lasts longer than the child’s does. Eventually, and soon, it must move on to another venture. Theirs always does, but yours lingers, heartstrings tugged.

It’s the wish to prolong this moment artificially, I think, that motivates the urge to keep and curate your children’s art for posterity. You convince yourself there’s some future where your child will want to return to that moment of pride and love through the act of witnessing the thing she made so long ago.

Don’t fall for it. You’re only trying to make yourself feel better. You’ll never quite be able to tell which moment your children will remember, and it’s not as if you can regulate that memory on their behalf anyway. And besides, childhood is made from a thousand moments just like this. There’s no way to hold on to all of them.

Are you reading this properly?

Yes, I read my email on my phone. And yes, I read the news on my tablet, where I found these two cheery articles from the Guardian.

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound
The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

Alan Rusbridger: who broke the news?
If journalists cannot agree on a common idea of the public interest – of the public service we claim to be providing – then it complicates the defence of what we do. And in an age of horizontal free mass media, it is even more important for us to be able to define and declare our values, our purpose – and our independence. Which includes independence from the state.

But five years after the Snowden revelations, it is now apparent that states themselves are struggling with the digital disruption that first tore through the established media and has now reshaped politics. The digital giants have not only unleashed information chaos – they have, in the blink of an eye, become arguably the most powerful organisations the world has ever seen.

Update 04/09/2018

I’ve just found another article on a similar theme that I’ll tack on to the end of this post, about watching less and reading more.

Why everyone should watch less news
While research has shown that visually shocking and upsetting news can contribute to anxiety, sleeping trouble, raise cortisol levels and even trigger PTSD symptoms, a University of Sussex study found that just six minutes reading a book can reduce stress levels up to 68%. A study done by former journalist turned positive psychology researcher Michelle Geilan found that watching just a few minutes of negative news in the morning increases the chances of viewers reporting having had a bad day by 27%, while Barnes and Noble just reported soaring sales for books that help people deal with anxiety and find happiness. Life Time Fitness, a gym chain with locations in 27 states, recently decided that tuning their TVs to FOX News and CNN was antithetical to their mission of making people healthier, so they’ve banned the news from the gym.