For a whole generation of podcasters and writers, Ira Glass and his This American Life radio show are the gold standard.
Glass has won pretty much every available award, and the This American Life podcast is downloaded by more than a million people each week. (One podcaster I met said he trots out “WWID?” to test his decisions — shorthand for “What Would Ira Do”).
His take on the yawning gap between our tastes and our work resonates with almost every serious artist.
That’s why I perked up when I stumbled across a “This is How I Work” interview with Glass that outlines the methods used to produce This American Life.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
On the tech/app side I keep things unsophisticated. Pro Tools to edit sound, Microsoft Word for writing. This American Life runs on Google Docs. Before Google Docs existed, those rare times I met software engineers, I’d ask them to please create software so two people in different locations could edit a document together online. God bless Google Docs.
We use Google Docs so much at the radio show because we edit and re-edit each story many times before it gets to air. At each edit, we add at least one producer who’s never heard the earlier versions.
Editing a radio story goes like this: The reporter reads the script out loud and when it’s time for the quotes, we play those from the computer. Someone times how long the story is. We all take notes. If you’d stuck your head into the office, you’d see four of five of us scribbling away furiously and noting what we’d change. Lately we’ve been buying Muji notebooks and .38 Muji gel ink pens at the office for this purpose. They’re pleasant to touch and make the world seem like an orderly place. I number and date my notebooks in case I need to go back to them later.
I really can’t stand writing in Google Docs, but I’m seeing a lot of people referencing its usefulness as a collaborative tool.
You can read the rest of Glass’ interview here.
You can see Glass explain why your work kinda sucks here.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
Any book that’s been read to death should probably end up in Library Heaven. In this case, we’re witness to the death of a Robert Parker Spenser novel — one that’s at least 20 years old.
I kept this one going (courtesy of a rubber band) for an extra couple years, but trying to assemble seven pieces into a coherent work of art means it’s time to get a new one.
It’s one of my insomnia books; a work interesting enough to entertain. Yet it won’t keep me awake if I get sleepy (you don’t launch into a new “can’t-put-it-down” book at 1:30 in the morning).
Clearly, books can be classified in ways not envisioned by the Dewey Decimal System.
The insomnia shelf is pretty deep, so I won’t replace this book right away. But if I had to, would I buy paper or digital?
My paper version of A Catskill Eagle lasted 20+ years. If I bought another, I could hand it to anyone who needed a fun, quick read (or a little more sleep).
I could read an ebook version of A Catskill Eagle anywhere I had a phone or tablet, and it’d never fall into dust. And I can make the type bigger, so it’s easier on my 50+ year-old eyes.
But I couldn’t give it away. And — unlike the paper version — am I sure I’ll be able to read that ebook decades from now?
Keep writing, Tom Chandler
I first saw this years ago, but lost track of it before I could get it posted. It’s a darkly cynical (if you’re a vendor) look at the current state of client/vendor relationships:
The last scene hits closest to home; the diners want the chef to show them how to make the meal they just ate, so they can make it at home cheaper.
If I had a free meal for every time a client or prospect asked me to provide substantial technology expertise for free the last ten years, I’d be a much, much (much!) heavier person.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
Online ad sales have not supported much in the way of “citizen” digital media, nor have ad sales done much for traditional journalism (if you doubt that statement, witness profitable magazines asking writers to work for free).
And as Scott Rosenberg notes (his The Wordyard Project, is one of my favorite *big thought* blogs), online advertising can’t keep pleading youth as an excuse for its lack of success (20 years is plenty: let’s stop waiting for online ads to mature). And that counting on online advertising to support the Intertubes might just be the reason the Internet often sucks:
But mostly, advertising online today is a plague. I don’t believe advertising itself is inherently evil — so Zuckerman’s “original sin” formulation might ring the wrong bells. But it warps the good things about the Web. It stands between us as we encounter one another online. It creates incentives for publishers to make things less usable and less useful, and to blur distinctions that should be crystal clear (as with the new “native advertising”/advertorial fad). So far, it has kept us from fulfilling the potential of the medium we are building.
I argue that nearly every characteristic of the digital medium that critics abhor — its pileup of distractions, its invasions of privacy, its corrosions of trust — turns out not to be an inherent characteristic of the technology at all. These modern media maladies are byproducts of bad business models.
The ad-supported business model was force-fed to traditional media (and traditional media consumers) by tech and new media companies. Back then, those companies were aggregating content and shearing away much of the value before content producers saw a dime (if they ever did).
In other words, tech wasn’t developing a business model for the Internet as much as kicking the can down the road in a direction that worked for them — not media companies or content producers. That the result involves eroding privacy, an unpalatable blurring of the line between editorial and advertising, and declining compensation for content producers isn’t really that surprising.
(Easily Answered Question: Does anyone doubt the same travesty is unfolding in the privacy/big data arena?)
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
Jill Lepore is one of those writers I know nothing about, yet I keep finding her name atop interesting, thought-provoking articles.
I’m now a hopeless, card-carrying Lepore fanboy based on her New Yorker piece on the emerging economic “science” of disruption, which was brilliant and thoughtful, pointing out that the tech world’s manic embrace of disruption (or “devastating innovation”) isn’t necessarily backed by fact.
Using a historian’s perspective, Lepore largely debunks many of the case studies used to support the theory of disruption in Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (the bible of disruptors), essentially suggesting the theory of disruption isn’t predictive, but exists only as a backward-looking confirmation of change.
Her research is impeccable, but as a writer, I loved her use of complex sentences to build momentum. In copywriting, we don’t use complex sentences, but watch how Lepore lays complex constructs end-to-end:
A pack of attacking startups sounds something like a pack of ravenous hyenas, but, generally, the rhetoric of disruption—a language of panic, fear, asymmetry, and disorder—calls on the rhetoric of another kind of conflict, in which an upstart refuses to play by the established rules of engagement, and blows things up. Don’t think of Toyota taking on Detroit. Startups are ruthless and leaderless and unrestrained, and they seem so tiny and powerless, until you realize, but only after it’s too late, that they’re devastatingly dangerous: Bang! Ka-boom! Think of it this way: the Times is a nation-state; BuzzFeed is stateless. Disruptive innovation is competitive strategy for an age seized by terror.
Lepore’s article does a fine job of examining the intellectual shortcuts taken by those who would joyfully disrupt even relatively stable industries — or those who don’t see value beyond dollars in things like schools, medical care, journalism and others.
She finishes with a flourish, pointing out that for all the tech world’s claims of changing the world for the better, disruption is in fact largely amoral.
The upstarts who work at startups don’t often stay at any one place for very long. (Three out of four startups fail. More than nine out of ten never earn a return.) They work a year here, a few months there — zany hours everywhere. They wear jeans and sneakers and ride scooters and share offices and sprawl on couches like Great Danes. Their coffee machines look like dollhouse-size factories.
They are told that they should be reckless and ruthless. Their investors, if they’re like Josh Linkner, tell them that the world is a terrifying place, moving at a devastating pace. “Today I run a venture capital firm and back the next generation of innovators who are, as I was throughout my earlier career, dead-focused on eating your lunch,” Linkner writes. His job appears to be to convince a generation of people who want to do good and do well to learn, instead, remorselessness. Forget rules, obligations, your conscience, loyalty, a sense of the commonweal. If you start a business and it succeeds, Linkner advises, sell it and take the cash. Don’t look back. Never pause. Disrupt or be disrupted.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.
I’m fascinated by retro writing gear.
I used typewriters when they were part of the “normal” workflow, but apparently I’m lazy enough to appreciate the efficiencies of modern tech.
Which is why I perk up when something like the Qwerkywriter USB mechanical keyboard — which is built to look (and act) like a typewriter keyboard — pops up.
It’s beautiful and different and nostalgic, but it’s also expensive ($309 at the special intro price).
Will the typewriter revivalists — who typically slave on computers because they have to — bite?
I thought about it. Apparently I’m a sucker for nostalgia. But a cheap one, so I didn’t buy.
If I was writing a hard-boiled detective novel, maybe I’d take the plunge. The atmosphere would be worth it.
Keep writing (on whatever keyboard thrills), Tom Chandler.
For almost 30 years I've worked as a writer (most of it freelance). I'm also the father of two perfect little girls.
Despite these things, I remain mostly sane.
The Underground reflects my interest in all kinds of writing and all kinds of writers (if you're looking for SEO advice, you're probably in the wrong place).