Monday, June 30, 2014

Writing on journalists & government secrets - by Fagone and Paterniti

Two fascinating pieces of recent writing from authors I like quite a bit dealt with the topic of writers and government secrets.

For the June issue of GQ Magazine, Michael Paterniti did a Q&A (including a fairly lengthy intro) with Glenn Greenwald titled "The Man Who Knows Too Much" that featured some tremendously interesting detail on Greenwald's interactions with government whistleblower Edward Snowden (who I've linked to stories on here).

The other piece to note here was posted a few weeks ago to the website Medium by Jason Fagone with "The Secret to Getting Top-Secret Secrets" on freelance journalist Jason Leopold and his practice of constantly filing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for government documents. It's really remarkable reading on the seemingly secret government information that may become available if asked for (and asked for, and asked for).

Great sports writing - by Thompson, Norlander, Keown & Chen

Four pieces of excellent recent sports writing included one on the World Cup, one the NBA draft and two the Oakland A's.

The World Cup piece was by Wright Thompson for ESPN with "Costa Rica 1990 squad's special bond" and it was just really cool work that showed what a team can mean to people, as shown through a powerful story of the team flying back home and seeing mirrors down below sending a message of appreciation.

For the CBS Sports website, Matt Norlander wrote "Isaiah Austin wins the night at the NBA Draft and starts a new life" and provided great in-depth reporting on the riveting details around Austin learning of his Marfan Syndrome diagnosis, ending his basketball career before he could begin it as a professional.

The other two pieces of really good sports writing to note here were on the Oakland Athletics with Tim Keown for ESPN The Magazine providing "How Scott Kazmir came back" on the starting pitcher and Albert Chen for Sports Illustrated writing "In Oakland, Brandon Moss emerges as unlikely star for Athletics" for the SI website a month ago and then expanding that into the longer (and not yet posted online) feature "Business As Usual" from the June 23 issue.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Favorite soccer writing so far - by Phillips, Ballard, Thompson & Jones

There's of course been a tremendous amount of writing on soccer since the World Cup began June 12th and my favorite pieces so far have been by Brian Phillips, Chris Ballard, Wright Thompson and Chris Jones.

The Phillips story is the one I saw most recently with him writing "Train in Vain" for Grantland and it's a remarkable look at the games themselves juxtaposed against the problems in Brazil and just brilliantly done work.

For Sports Illustrated Longform a few days ago, Chris Ballard provided "Coming of Age," an excellent piece on U.S. soccer fandom, told through the lens of the author's trip with longtime friends to watch the Americans play Ghana and that compared to travelling with much the same group to France for U.S. World Cup games in 1998.

As would be expected, there's been a huge volume of writing done for ESPN so far during the tournament, with a big chunk of that provided by Wright Thompson with incredibly frequent posts of stories (and salsa recipes!) to his ESPN World Cup blog. So many of the pieces are well-written features that he's pumping out constantly as he's been travelling through Latin America and the story of his so far that stands out the most as I scroll the blog is "A place that God forgot," written from the "murder capital of the world," San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The last really good piece of soccer writing to note here wasn't actually on the World Cup, but totally captures the idea of soccer fandom, and to that adds a dollop of fatherhood. "How a Kid Becomes a Fan" was by Chris Jones for the latest issue of Esquire and is just a really nice short piece.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fast Company writing - on AirBnB, Google X, Preet Bharara & All Power Labs

Some interesting Fast Company Magazine writing from recent issues included looks at Google X, Airbnb, the Berkeley-based energy startup All Power Labs and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The first piece to note here was by Jon Gertner with "The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind the Secretive Lab's Closed Doors" and it brought to mind a Businessweek feature on Google X that I linked to and wrote on a year ago.

A story written by Austin Carr was "Inside Airbnb's Grand Hotel Plans" and it included lots of interesting content on CEO Brian Chesky and newly named head of global hospitality Chip Conley.

On U.S. Attorney Bharara, Max Chafkin wrote "The Most Dangerous Man in Bitcoin Isn't a Criminal," with a part of the story that stood out to me being mention of Bharara having hired Palo Alto-based data mining company Palantir.

The final piece to note here was by Josh Dean with "Meet the Radical Berkeley Artist Whose Company is Turning Trash Into Electricity" on Jim Mason whose company All Power Labs makes the Power Pallet that works through a process called gassification.

"Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia

Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia was an interesting book with the subtitle "A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier." Kizzia lives in Homer, Alaska and through Pilgrim's Wilderness he chronicles the story of Bobby Hale and his family that settled in the remote town of McCarthy.

Hale named himself Papa Pilgrim and portrayed to others his role in the family as being all about homespun Christian values, but really he was just an evil loon who used religion as an excuse to control, brutalize and molest his family and take advantage of the charity of those outside his wife and fifteen children. Pilgrim's Wilderness was an interesting book that at first glance could just be dismissed as a horrific story about a madman, but there's also a ton of interesting backstory and subplot to it, both about Hale himself and the people in Alaska who seemed to latch on to him for their own purposes.

Kizzia details in the book how Hale taking his family to Alaska was just another step away from troubles he created, more recently in New Mexico, where they lived on property of Jack Nicholson's, and then back to his time in Texas. Hale grew up the son of an FBI agent and friend of J. Edgar Hoover and later ran off with and married Kathleen Connelly, the daughter of John Connelly, a three-term governor of Texas best known for being shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in the front seat of the JFK limo. Before Kathleen could give birth to Hale's child, she died under suspicious circumstances, officially ruled a suicide, with Hale the only other person in the room.

In terms of people in Alaska wanting to use the Pilgrim Family narrative for their own purposes, the tiny (just a few dozen full-time residents) town of McCarthy is in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and after Hale bought land within the Park, he then portrayed  the National Park Service and anyone representing it as being out to get his family, which was a great narrative to use for those who feel the government and Park Service overreach and meddle in the affairs of private citizens.

Really an interesting book overall that's about a horrific individual who terrorized his family, but also contains a lot more and additional details can be found in an interesting New York Times interview with Kizzia after publication of the book last July.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Interesting Fast Company writing - on GoPro, DonorsChoose and Dutch flood prevention

A few different interesting pieces from Fast Company Magazine included two features and one brief mention of a company.

From the November issue was the fairly long "Against The Tide" by Jeff Chu on flood prevention measures in the Netherlands and the March "50 Most Innovative Companies" issue included two interesting stories, one on DonorsChoose and one GoPro.

The feature was "Beyond School Supplies: How DonorsChoose is Crowdsourcing Real Education Reform" by Peg Tyre on the #9 company on the list and later on was a short missive on GoPro, the #39 company and a fascinating one to me in how they've built a lifestyle brand to sell a piece of hardware (reminiscent of how Red Bull has created a lifestyle around an energy drink).

ESPN writing - Jones on lessons from his column & Pirlo and Thompson on Messi and Maradona

Three different pieces of ESPN writing recently struck me as particularly excellent with two short works by Chris Jones and a not all that long feature story by Wright Thompson.

The Thompson piece was from the ESPN The Magazine World Cup preview issue with "Shadowed by the Hand of God" on Argentinian soccer legends current and past Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.

The other two pieces to note here were "Chris Jones' lessons learned," his final back-page column for ESPN The Magazine and "Another architect in Manaus," posted today to the ESPN World Cup blog and about a play made by Italian player Andrea Pirlo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Businessweek writing of note - on IBM, MLB Advanced Media & Tankchair LLC

Recent issues of Businessweek included three stories that stoood out to me as particularly interesting, with one on an absolutely inspiring small company.

The May 26-June 1 issue featured as its cover story "The Trouble with IBM" and it was a fascinating piece by Nick Summers that noted how the once high-flying technology company now known in some circles more for its financial engineering of performance results than actual growth.

The June 9-22 "Global Tech" issue included two pieces to mention here with the smaller of them "How Major League Baseball Helps ESPN Stream World Cup Soccer" by Ira Boudway about MLB Advanced Media (or BAM), which I two years ago linked to a Fast Company article on.

Additionally in this issue was a story noted by Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel as one that may be his "favorite story we've published in 2014." The piece was by Joshua Green and titled "The Incredible Stair-Climbing, Self-Parking, Amphibious Wheelchair" on the company Tankchair LLC. Really a great story about Brad Soden and the company that came out of his desire to improve quality of life for his paralyzed wife and now helps many seriously injured veterans. 

Excellent basketball writing - by Lee Jenkins & Flinder Boyd

Two really good recent pieces of basketball writing were "New NBA commissioner Adam Silver is his own man" by Lee Jenkins for Sports Illustrated and "The Birdman's Vengeful Ghost" by Flinder Boyd for Newsweek.

The thing I appreciate most about writing from Jenkins is how he includes tremendously interesting anecdotes in his stories and this feature definitely no exception. The piece from Boyd stood out to me as something that was well-written, but really told just an amazing tale of catfishing or internet deception that could have unjustly landed now Miami Heat player Chris Andersen in jail.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Great sports storytelling - writing by Joe Posnanski & video segments from ESPN

Two completely different sets of recent pieces struck me as excellent sports storytelling in columns by Joe Posnanski for the NBC Sports website and ESPN E:60 video segments.

The Posnanski columns were "Don't Call it a Comeback" a couple of weeks ago on Michael Phelps and his return to competitive swimming and "The Oakland Way" about this year's A's team. It's not surprising by any means to see it from Posnanski, but some interesting and insightful stuff from both pieces.

The ESPN videos were both really well done with the first "Dominic Moore: Coming Home" on the New York Rangers forward who several years ago lost his wife to cancer.

The second video was "Qatar's World Cup" about the migrant labor building facilities in for the 2022 World Cup. From the employment system controlling the laborers to their horrible living conditions and all too frequent deaths while in Qatar, it's a revealing and important piece.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

"Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon was a good book that followed up on and provided much more detail than Kleon's prior excellent book, Steal Like An Artist (which I reviewed two years ago).

The subtitle of Show Your Work is "10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered" and some of what Kleon writes is noted below...

1. You don't have to be a genius. Be part of a group contributing something and remember to be an amateur; amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing. Think about what you want to learn and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. You can't find your voice if you do to use it; talk about the things you love and your voice will follow. Read obituaries and keep in mind that they're not about death, they're about life, and second acts.

 2. Think process, not product. Take people behind the scenes of your creative work and show the idea and then all the steps to the idea. Kleon quotes journalist David Carr as saying "you have to make stuff, nobody is going to give a damn about your resume; they want to see what you made with your own little fingers."

3. Share something small every day. Don't worry too much about the big picture, just focus on what you do in a given day, do that and then give a daily update, whether that update be a blog post, tweet, LinkedIn update or whatever gets your message out. Also keep in mind that most of your work isn't great, but you have to get it out there to let people decide.

4. Open up your cabinet of possibilities. Don't be a hoarder, share your tastes, you may not have great output yet, but you do have tastes.

5. Tell good stories. Work doesn't speak for itself, people really do want to hear the story behind work. Structure is everything, a good pitch is three acts, where you've been, where you are now, where you want to go and this same principle can be applied to storytelling about others. Talk about yourself at parties, figure out how to describe who you are and what you do and don't describe yourself as aspiring if you really are doing something, it's ok to wear it.

6. Teach what you know. Share your trade secrets.

7. Don't turn into human spam. You want hearts, not eyeballs and practice the vampire test and be done hanging with people that suck the life out of you. At the same time, find the people similar to yourself... "identify your fellow knuckleballers."

8. Learn to take a punch. Let people take their best shot at you and don't feed the trolls.

9. Sell out. Kleon on the topic of selling out quotes from a great interview with Dave Eggers I linked to and wrote about a few years ago.

10. Stick around. The phrase "don't quit your show" is used along with "you can't plan on anything; you can only go about your work. You can't count on success; you can only leave open the possibility for it, and be ready to jump on and take the ride when it comes for you."

It was really solid stuff in the book and at the end Kleon both notes the blog on his website and book twitter hashtag #showyourwork.