The Guardian published a super fancy multimedia presentation about a family surviving a wildfire in Australia. You can check it out by clicking the picture above. I recommend it.
I'm curious what you think about it, whether you're a journalist, a fiction writer, a documentary maker, or the average reader/viewer. Do you think this is great? Or is it a little much?
I think it's really, really ambitious, and I love really, really ambitious things. So it scores major points there. But my brain couldn't settle into the experience. Was I reading a story, or was I watching a documentary? That's not a complaint, exactly. Just the way I reacted to it this time.
That said, I think this is a fantastic way to present journalism in the Internet age. I hope we see more of this.
Ad Age's Simon Dumenco asked many-awards-winning Esquire editor David Granger this question:
You're a lifelong magazine guy and long-form storyteller. Now you're working with short-attention-span TV people to help launch the Esquire Network. [Sneed Note: Granger's developing the Esquire Network with NBC Universal.] Be honest: If you weren't bald already, would you be pulling your hair out by now?
Below is what Granger said, in part. (Here's the column in full. Definitely worth the read.)
People (smart people) want more, bigger, longer experiences. They are reacting to the ephemerality and the choppiness of their work lives by committing to their entertainments.
Which is one of the things that worries me when I look at the way a lot of consumer magazines are redesigning themselves. Just at a time when people are longing for depth and getting it from so many forms of entertainment, most of the magazine redesigns I see tend to emphasize the quick and the superficial.
AMC's Breaking Bad has been a master class in evolving characters driving a relentlessly addictive plot. Anyone who wants to write will learn a lot by watching it. This YouTube video is eight minutes long, but it's worth every second. You see Walter White — the central character of the show, played by the phenomenal Bryan Cranston — transform from a meek, beta-type high school chemistry teacher to a fearless, genius alpha male meth dealer who can murder someone without blinking. It's been an incredible story to watch unfold, and this video captures White's journey, completely. If you can't watch the show, at least watch this.
Your ass has to be in the chair to get any work done, so you should put your ass in the chair.
[O]nce I have the story in hand, I don’t like to spend too long researching before I start writing something — a headline, a dek, a few sentences. If I don’t do that, the idea of the story gets too big and perfect. And then when I sit down at the keyboard, I start out, “In the beginning…” When I’m in that mode, it’s easy to forget about the reader, and what questions they might have.
There is no red-tile-roof house on the Aegean where famous writers all go to work in relative leisure. There might be 20 jobs now where you’re set for life, but the rest of us will be hustling forever.
One of my best friends called his big career move “getting off other people’s ladders,” and that struck me as wise advice. You want to write beautiful stories about things you care about? You can do that, so who cares if you don’t end up writing profiles for The New Yorker? You can move around within the profession in more interesting ways than people could before.
Follow your own curiosity and say the most interesting stuff first. [Sneed's note: The second part of this is maybe one of the most simple and important things I've ever heard as a writer.]
Forget that hypothetical reader and write about the things that are most interesting to you. Then, make it your mission to explain to readers why they should care about this thing you find interesting.
I don’t believe in other people’s hierarchies about what’s important in the world.
"We are in bewildering times for young people who want to make non-fiction writing their careers. Journalism jobs are scarce, and getting scarcer. I deliver the only solace I can, by telling them what I believe: The art of storytelling is as old as civilization. There will always be a hunger for it. Learn to do it well, and somehow, you will find a way to make it pay.
I tell the most fragile of them that being a good writer mostly means being a good observer and a good thinker, and that, with work, it’s possible to triumph over a lack of innate writing skill. I use myself as an example; I believe I did exactly this.
There’s one last truth that I don’t tell them, because it’s needlessly disturbing and would serve no pragmatic purpose. I’ll say it now, just once, and be done with it. A real writer is someone for whom writing is a terrible ordeal. That is because he knows, deep down, with an awful clarity, that there are limitless ways to fill a page with words, and that he will never, ever, do it perfectly. On some level, that knowledge haunts him all the time. He will always be juggling words in his head, trying to get them closer to a tantalizing, unreachable ideal.
It’s a torment you can’t escape. It will reach even into the comfort of a drunken sleep, and it will shake you awake, and send you, heart pumping, to an empty piece of paper.
If you have that, you can be a good writer. Congratulations, I guess."
From this post at Harper's. Curious what the journalists in the audience think. This certainly gave me pause. There are many times I've thought it would be more comfortable to just slip into a first-person account of the story I'm writing, often because of exactly what Mann says here. I definitely consider myself a work in progress as a journalist and as a writer on the whole, and this just made me sit and think for a minute. Curious what thoughts others might have on the subject:
Lawrence Weschler, the great New Yorker writer, has a quote along the lines of, “I like to insert a strong I into what I’m writing not out of some sense of egomania, but precisely the opposite.” I agree with that. I don’t have the hubris to traditionally report on something, then step back, remove my personality, biases, memories, and screw-ups, and speak with authority. I’m the neurotic, often-confused dude who is trying to figure out why all this stuff is important to him, and that crucial, intimate honesty isn’t something I’d ever want to remove from the work.
Riveting interview with Libby Phelps, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the pastor of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for picketing the funerals of American soldiers and other events with signs that say "God Hates Fags" and the like. The picture above is of Phelps in 2007. Full story here. Highlights below.
The most killer, heartbreaking line in the whole story, the one that sums it all up? "Libby married in July 2011. Her parents did not attend."
The house was empty, just as Libby Phelps had planned. Slipping inside that afternoon four years ago, she felt as if her heart would burst through her chest.
She peeked through the curtains, terrified that her aunt and uncle across the street would notice the cars parked in the driveway with doors and trunks open.
Moving quickly with three co-workers by her side, she shoved clothes, high school yearbooks, photo albums, a pillow and an old TV into boxes and suitcases. She felt like a thief in her own home. And, in a way, she was.
At age 25, Libby Phelps was stealing her life back.
Libby had grown up with the belief that the world was full of bad people who would do her harm. In the first months of her new life, she was terrified of strangers. She would go to a party and wonder what her parents would say. She would watch people from afar, wanting to fit in but not knowing how. She still has a hard time trusting others.
She was 12 when the picketing began.
It was the summer of 1991 and her grandfather took two grandsons on a bike ride to a park in Topeka. The park had long been a hookup spot for gays. The family story goes that Fred rode ahead and when he circled back, a man was trying to lure the boys into the trees.
Furious, he went to the city and demanded it clean up the park. When Topeka's government did not act, he posted his first sign on a park restroom door: "Watch Your Kids. Gays in Restroom."
In the beginning, Libby saw the picketing as a play date with her cousins. [...] "I didn't even know what a homosexual was," Libby said.
It had never been easy growing up as a Phelps.
Holidays were not celebrated. She was forbidden to date. She could not wear makeup, pierce her ears or cut her hair. As her family's notoriety grew, she realized she was despised. Classmates would move to the other side of the room to avoid her. Her parents told her persecution made her stronger.
"Don't say that. Don't even think like that," Libby recalled their father bristling.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, she said, church members were jubilant, saying God had punished the United States for condoning homosexuality. But Libby didn't feel happy.
Soon afterward, one of her favorite cousins, Joshua Phelps-Roper, abruptly left the church. She was told to never speak to him again.
Libby married in July 2011. Her parents did not attend.
Libby isn't sure what she believes anymore. She no longer hates homosexuality, but her journey is far from complete: "Everyone thinks when you leave you do this 180. It doesn't work that way."
Sometimes she and her cousins talk about reaching out to those they hurt. Libby remembers when the Phelps clan picketed the funeral of a soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2006. He was the husband of one of her favorite instructors in college.
Libby wishes she could explain her past to the woman, but what could she say?
"I guess I would say I am so sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing."