Tag Archives: news

Has TalkingPointsMemo.com Jumped The Shark, Or Am I Not Reading It Correctly?

When I first discovered Talking Points Memo (TPM), sometime around 2001, it was solely the political blog of Josh Marshall, and it looked like this:

TPM-screenshot-old

One blogger, one very narrow column with blog posts, an even narrower sidebar with some navigation, a call for donations, book recommendations, and a short list of links to other recommended sites.

That’s it, I loved it, and it would be one of my primary inspirations for becoming a blogger several years later, in 2004, at my now-defunct first blog Transcendental Floss. (No relation to any currently existing websites using that name.)

Now TPM is called TPM Media, it has a full staff of writers, two bureaus, in New York City and Washington, D.C. respectively, 13 sections of their website, and it looks like this:

TPM-screenshot-new

This transformation took place gradually over the past 10 years or so, and for the most part I enjoyed the growth, as it allowed for broader coverage of the political topics I was most interested in.

More recently, over the past few years, with the rise in popularity of political comedy TV shows — The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, etc. — along with the sad new reality that these were some of the only shows on television adequately sounding the alarm on the deplorable things our government and politicians do on a regular basis, TPM, like most other political blogs/websites, began posting clips from these shows.

This, too, was ok with me. I don’t have TV at home, and so having these clips cherry picked for me and handily available on a website I already visited on a regular basis was welcome.

Enter The Slice, the newest section, rolled out two weeks ago, and described thusly:

Think of it as TPM’s magazine—deeper takes, more crafted writing. The Slice gets to the thorny, human, gut level of a broader range of issues than TPM has tackled before. We’ll be exploring everything from money and sex to identity and pop culture, from politics and family to those harbingers of modern life you keep noticing but can’t quite parse out.

When I first read that, I didn’t have any immediate negative reaction to it.

Then, today, I saw this on the TPM home page:

TPM-screenshot-slice

I’ll give you a moment to spot the story from The Slice

Yeah, jarring isn’t it? It’s like one of those “which one doesn’t belong” activities for school children.

In the comments section for this Slice piece with the clickbait title What I Learned From Going to the Adult Film Oscars With the King of Porn, two TPM readers echoed my exact immediate thoughts:

Commenter # 1: Am I at the Huffington Post?

Commenter # 2: Or Salon?

I have a love-hate relationship with both The Huffington Post and Salon for this very reason. Both sites have excellent coverage of news and politics, and both offer this jarring mix of content, with articles of substance on important matters posted side-by-side with trivialities.

From just a brief scan of the two home pages just now, I found these annoyingly incongruent headlines:

Huffington Post

Hezbollah Launches Deadliest Attack On Israel Since ’06
The Common Cooking Mistake That Ruins Everything

Salon

White Virginia politician calls African American reporter “boy”
“Ghostbusters” reboot: Let’s weigh the pros and cons of the new cast

So, I was all ready to declare, as the title of my post suggests, that TPM, the self-described “premier digital native political news organization in the United States”, the 2007 winner of the prestigious George Polk award for Journalism, had jumped the shark, but…

…before I could write a word I imagined what Josh Marshall would likely say in response: “We’re not the problem. You are!”

And, arguably he’d be right.

You see, I don’t HAVE to see the content that I don’t want to see. If what I’m looking for is news and politics, then all I really have to do is change my browser bookmarks so that the TPM bookmark takes me to the Editor’s Blog, which aggregates the best news and politics posts from the various other sections. Likewise, at Huffington Post and Salon, I could go directly to their news and politics sections.

I happen to work with a team of web developers, and they have a saying that they use to guide them in developing user-focused software and websites, a saying that reminds them to factor into their work a variety of different user-types in order to make their products as user-friendly possible:

As a [user type], I need to [action], so that I can [goal].

In this case, it could easily be argued that, while the TPM home page does not work well for me [user type], the fact that I have the option to navigate directly [action] to the sections that I want to read [goal] would indicate that their design is still user-friendly by definition.

Now, excuse my while I go and edit my bookmarks.

Headline of the Day: Fun With Airtravel

From the name of the band that this guy is a member of, to the vivid image of his behavior in the airport, this headline is like a scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

Puddle of Mudd Singer Arrested for Riding Baggage Carousel

Rolling Stone

That he was bailed out by a fan is the icing on the comedy cake. LOL!

Headline of the Day: Strange Definition of ‘Fun’

Kicking off this new Recurring Series with a headline from our local daily newspaper, here in Bellingham, Washington:

‘I thought you would think it was fun,’ Bellingham driver told cop after trying to run him over

Bellingham Herald

Adventures In Graph Innuendo

Listen, either I’m the biggest pervert in the world, or many, many minds should be blown by the fact that the following graph actually made it past the editors of Forbes.com and onto the interwebs, accompanying an article titled How Successful People Squash Stress.

stressgraph

How does this happen?!

How can anyone look at that graph and not see what I see, and I’m not even on the staff of a fairly prestigious publication, where people get paid good money to know stuff about the power of imagery, symbolism, and suggestiveness?

I mean, even with my rudimentary Photoshop skills, it was obvious to me that all I had to do was remove the erect penis in order for this to be a perfectly respectable visual aide for the article!

stressgraph2

The most unfortunate thing, of course, is that what Travis Bradberry writes in this piece is actually quite good and contains very helpful information that could increase the wellbeing of a lot of people.

Hopefully, it still will, once we’ve all stopped laughing.

Video Fridays: R.I.P. Ian McLagan

ian-mclaganREALLY tough week for rock & roll.

The day after we lost unsung legend Bobby Keys, which I wrote about on Tuesday, the sad news came that another unsung legend, Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan, had passed.

It’s uncanny that these two amazing musicians should leave us at the same time, given their similar career arcs. Both Bobby and Mac played supporting roles for many, many rock & roll greats, a veritable Who’s Who, I listed Bobby’s credits on Tuesday, and Mac’s are just as impressive, including a shared longtime collaboration with The Rolling Stones: Small Faces, Faces, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Pete Townshend, Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Lucinda Williams, etc.

Of all his work, however, I’m deeply partial to Faces, whose classic lineup included Mac, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, and Kenny Jones. They only produced four albums, from 1969 to 1973, but in that brief time, before Rod Stewart became a cheesy pop star, their music was soulful, gritty, raw, and powerful.

Lucky for us, there are 40 minutes of live Faces goodness available on YouTube, and I present it here in honor of Ian McLagan, featuring, at about the 29:20 mark, Mac’s amazing Wurlitzer electric piano work on the classic Stay With Me.

Thanks for all of the wonderful music, Mac! You’ll be missed!

R.I.P. Bobby Keys

bobbykeysOh boy. This is a tough loss. Saxophonist extraordinaire Bobby Keys, dead at 70.

If you believe in the magic of rock & roll, which I devoutly do, it isn’t in the individual. I’ve played in bands with A-team players all around. But unless they can play together, it doesn’t do any good. And you can take guys who may not stand on their own up against a bunch of individuals they might be compared to, but you put ‘em together, man, and they are unique unto themselves in a way that no one else can touch…That’s part of the music that I come from, cause I can’t read music…That’s not where I come from musically. I come strictly from feeling, and that feeling comes from rock & roll.

~Bobby Keys

That, right there, absolutely nails the essence of rock & roll’s magic; its accessibility, where the door is always open to anyone willing to spill blood, sweat, and tears, where even a bunch of musical misfits can make beautiful music together.

If you’re reading this and don’t really know who Bobby Keys was, first, I’d be sad for you, second, by way of explanation, I’d describe Bobby as an unsung rock & roll legend.

And, while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones, for good reason — he recorded and performed with them off and on for over 40 years — the list of musical artists he collaborated with is like a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame roll call: Bobby Vee, Buddy Holly, Dion, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, all four Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Donovan, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, Harry Nilsson, Faces, The Who, Humble Pie, Dr. John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Warren Zevon, etc.

That said, I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. It’s a testament to his greatness that he stood out the way he did in that massive, and massively talented, 20-member band. (If you aren’t familiar with Mad Dogs & Englishmen, run, don’t walk, watch the movie and listen to the album!)

In that spirit, since just one video would not be tribute enough, I’ll start off with a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and I’ll end with a Stones classic.

Thanks for all the great music, Bobby! You’ll be missed!

The Dystopia Fetish

dystopiaHave you ever had one of those experiences where you’ve been quietly tolerating something that really bothers you for a long, long time, but then you suddenly, in a dramatic moment, realize that you can no longer tolerate it?

Well, I’ve just had that experience, and I’m here to pronounce that I have no more tolerance to offer for what I see as a rampant dystopia fetish.

Dystopia: that mostly fictional construct of a future, sometimes post-apocalyptic, sometimes the product of a long, slow decline, filled with darkness and oppressive authoritarian government and violence, societies that retain just enough resemblance to present day realities as to give the impression that we’re heading down that slippery slope.

Fans of dystopian fiction, in print or onscreen, argue that we need these cautionary tales of possible futures, so that we, ideally, wake up and do everything we can to prevent such a future. But, what I see happening more and more is that people are starting believe that dystopia is unavoidable and already manifesting.

And, it wouldn’t be nearly as scary if it weren’t for the fact that some of these dystopians are already heavily arming themselves and preparing for the worst.

In some ways, we all contribute to the problem, by continuing to consume massive quantities of dystopia in books and movies and on TV. The media are happy to keep meeting the demand. I’m talking about everything from The Hunger Games to even the whole zombie craze. (Zombies aren’t real, of course, but they adequately serve as an easy metaphor for any number of evils that can fester in dystopia.)

You know, there’s enough real darkness in the world today, as a brief glance at news headlines will confirm. I’m not preaching head-in-the-sand escapism, but I do think we all should be rationing the attention we place on the dark side.

A friend of mine, a Seattle blogger at sealife chronicles, posted something today that I think is a good companion piece to this post, titled zen test. In it, he provides a wonderful quote by William Rivers Pitt and then writes:

bad happens every day.

and our collective survival instinct demands that we pay attention to it, so we learn to avoid it. trouble is, fed too much attention, the bad can take on a grim, feral life of its own. it’s a wild, dark energy that can turn on you and eat you alive.

this is true…and yet somehow the world is not, always or entirely, a carnivorous beast. we know this because sometimes ~ in quiet moments between the relentless waves pounding our souls ~ sometimes awesome happens.

amen.