The editors' blog
~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, March 28th 2013
Any institution charging students $60,000 for a vocational degree deserves a certain amount of scrutiny. But when Michael Wolff turned his sights on Columbia Journalism School for appointing a new dean who has never tweeted, he misfired.
The dean in question is Steve Coll (pictured), who will replace Nicholas Lemann in July. Both men have worked for the Washington Post and the New Yorker. Both have written several books. Neither is known for their digital acumen. But under Lemann, the school made strides in improving the digital curriculum by hiring Emily Bell from the Guardian to direct the new Tow Center for digital journalism and forging a partnership with the engineering school to grant dual degrees in journalism and computer science.
Right now, Columbia J-school is building a new institute for media innovation with money pledged by the late Helen Gurley Brown, who edited Cosmopolitan for many years. Mark Hansen, who started his career in research and development and now specialises in data and computing, will lead the new institute.
Even if Coll is as conservative as Wolff fears, there are people in his team with fearsome résumés, dedicated to the digital and technological future of the profession. What’s worrying is that after taking down the incoming dean on the strength of a poor Twitter presence, Wolff rubbishes the entire school for being "anti-market".read more »
~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, March 27th 2013
"The apple never falls far from the tree." That’s the saying Andrew Solomon turns on its head in "Far From the Tree", his new study of parents whose children have proved a surprise to them.
In a modest way, I’m one of these. The odds against my having a sporty child were long. My school was small enough that almost every girl was in a team. Not me. In the summer term, during rounders, I was the deep, deep fielder, lying in the rough grass, miles from the action. One PE report read simply, "Heavy landings".
My husband was the same. After watching him for the first time on the football pitch, his father took himself off and drowned his disappointment in drink. So when it came to buying a house—one small daughter in arms, another on the way—we ignored the estate agent’s warnings that the one we liked was lacking in "outside space". We wanted inside space, plenty of walls to fill with shelves, and books. And that, we assumed, was what our children would want too.
I don’t know when it dawned on us that our younger daughter was different. She began in a small way, kicking a ball about with the boys at break time, and again on the street after tea. Then she became obsessed with the kit, insisting on regular visits to Sports Direct to hang out among the slimy tops and psychedelic boots. Copies of Match! began to slip through the letterbox alongside the TLS. Liverpool, she decided, was her team. She plastered her bedroom walls with posters of Steven Gerrard, and in the bath at night began to sing soulfully, to the tune of “Let it Be”,
“Steeeevie G, Stevie G, Stevie G, oooooh Stevie G…”read more »
~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 27th 2013
Late last year, our picture editor Melanie Grant asked the photographer Emma Hardy to go to Cambodia. Nicholas Shakespeare was writing a piece about his return to Cambodia 50 years after his family was forced to flee Phnom Penh by an angry mob. Emma spent three days travelling with Nicholas, photographing the story as she went. We published her pictures in our January/February issue. Last night we saw them on a gallery wall. The Gallery in Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, has an exhibition of the pictures we used in the magazine as well as some that we didn't have room for.
Graham Black, our art director, was looking at a print of a photograph (above) we had used on the opening spread—of a baby sitting in a little round bath in a slum outside Phnom Penh. He had pored over hundreds of Emma's pictures, choosing which ones worked best with Nicholas Shakespeare's words. "It's like seeing a movie for the second time," Graham said, "You notice tiny little details." Just in front of the tin bathtub was a toothbrush, bristles down in mud and rubbish. "I hadn't seen that."read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 27th 2013
I know I’m meant to be pleased when the forces of evil are vanquished at the end of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation", and Bruce Willis pins a medal on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson’s enormous chest. But I still hadn’t got over the sequence, half an hour earlier, when the baddies drop a metal rod from an orbiting satellite, right on to central London. There’s a ten-second shot of the capital’s landmark buildings doing a Mexican wave and disintegrating—and after that the city’s total eradication is never mentioned again. As someone who lives in London, I took this offhand obliteration personally. Just how much devastation can a narrative include, I wondered, before its happy ending can no longer be counted as happy?
Quite a bit, it seems. The story of Noah's Ark is a jolly Sunday-school staple, so heartwarming stories of wholesale slaughter obviously have an illustrious history. But in cinemas the trend for casual mass destruction didn’t get going until the release of "Independence Day" in 1996: cities all over the world were razed by flying saucers, but none of that ultimately mattered, apparently, because Will Smith was reunited with his stripper wife. More troubling was "The Sum Of All Fears". It’s a thriller rather than a sci-fi movie, and it came out less than a year after 9/11, but that didn’t stop Ben Affleck and his fiancée picnicking blithely in its closing scene, presumably not thinking too much about the atom bomb that had wiped Baltimore off the map shortly beforehand.read more »
~ Posted by Jasper Rees, March 26th 2013
According to most standards of logic, cricket doesn’t compute. Last night, at the other end of the world, a game reached its conclusion after five days. Result of match: a draw. Result of series: a draw. Amount of what a curious outsider would understand as actual action: visible only under a microscope. Levels of tension suffered by anyone listening to the BBC's ball-by-ball coverage: the chart to measure it hasn’t yet been invented.
Normally England would give New Zealand a disdainful going-over. For some reason it hasn't happened in this three-match series. Rain deprived New Zealand of victory in the first encounter, then did the same for England in the second. For the last in Auckland the home team were over the horizon by lunchtime on the fourth day. With zero chance of winning, all England could do was hope to bat for ten hours till the match’s official end and salvage a draw. That moment came at 5.15 this morning British time. All through the remorseless night, hearts jiggered against ribcages, nails were chomped and bags grew plump under sleepless eyes.read more »
~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 25th 2013
Britain has just had the coldest weekend—for this time of spring—for 50 years, and it's hit those in the countryside hardest. Our contributing editor, Julie Kavanagh, who lives at the end of a steep Welsh track, two miles from the nearest ploughed road, emailed us last night:
We’ve been snowed-in several times—this, though, is something else. The local weather report described it as the heaviest snowfall for 30 years but the father of a local fencer says he’s seen nothing like it in all his 78 years. It’s over three feet deep and walking means sinking to your knees.
Julie went out to fill the bird feeder, which was clearly a popular move.
In the last half an hour, there has been a fluttering robin trying in vain to balance while pecking at the hanging container. A woodpecker fares better but is scared off by a massive jay having a go. Seven blackbirds, feathers territorially flying, fight over fat balls half-buried in the snow and flitting between them are three more robins, a chaffinch and an unidentifiable little dun-coloured thing with a cocky quiff.
Others aren't so lucky.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 21st 2013
No wonder we revere our sporting superstars. Not only are they excellent at running, hitting golf balls and driving cars, but they also find time to study the differences between high-street bank accounts—or so Santander’s ubiquitous adverts would have us believe. These adverts, currently in a newspaper and on a billboard near you, feature Jessica Ennis (above), Rory McIlroy and Jenson Button spouting detailed financial facts and figures. Fans of the bizarrely incongruous get to see Ennis saying, “Only one current account gives you 3% AER (variable) interest on balances between £3,000 and £20,000”. And Rory McIlroy saying, “2.80% AER/Tax Free (fixed) Major ISA 2 year fixed rate”.read more »
~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 20th 2013
What about animals? In our Big Question we ask "what is the best smell?" and six writers make the case for wild roses, newly-mown hay, baking bread, an Indian railway station platform, frying bacon and rain. Readers have joined in, adding sandalwood, clean linen, horse manure, sex and many others.
But these, obviously, are smells that appeal to humans. When we were talking in the office about authors who have written well about smells, Simon, our apps editor, mentioned the chapter in "Anna Karenina" where the landowner Levin gets up at dawn and goes shooting with his dog Laska. (You can read it on Wikisources here.) What's striking is how much of the scene is written from the dog's point of view.
Running into the marsh among the familiar scents of roots, marsh plants, and slime, and the extraneous smell of horse dung, Laska detected at once a smell that pervaded the whole marsh, the scent of that strong-smelling bird that always excited her more than any other.
Laska can smell grouse. But the scent is so powerful that she has to move some distance away to get a better idea where the smell is coming from. As she sniffs with her "dilated nostrils" she realises that there is not one bird in front of her, there are many.read more »
~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 18th 2013
Tony Hall takes over as director-general of the BBC in two weeks. He has made several good moves already. One is to change the names of the two departments which were known as "Vision" and "Audio and Music". They will now be called "Television" and "Radio" because Hall says this is what people "actually call them". Whoever thought "Vision" was a bright idea didn't know how viewers think.
There was another example of the BBC not understanding how people think on Saturday night. It was the final episode of the French crime series "Spiral" (pictured), which has won a passionate following in Britain, drawn to the gritty interaction of Parisian criminals, police and judges and, most of all, to the richly troubled lives of the half-dozen central characters.read more »
~ Posted by Jeremy Duns, March 14th 2013
I fell in love with pop music as a teenager in the 1980s. While some of my schoolmates were fans of prog-rock, the Rolling Stones or Prince, my passion was for the likes of Prefab Sprout, The Lilac Time, Frazier Chorus and other obscure-sounding but in fact just-slightly-off-mainstream bands. From the age of 17 on, I shunned most "chart music", which I dismissed as being, in that very 80s phrase, "naff". The likes of a-Ha, Hall and Oates and Simple Minds were too unfashionable for me at that age, and for many years later.read more »