Respectfully, Fuck Off

A footnote on a column by Aletha Cole, The Gazette’s conservative columnist, about trans and non-binary protesters in Johnson County:

*For reasons of conscience, the author respectfully declines to use “they/them” as individual pronouns.

These “reasons of conscience” are unspecified, and appending “respectfully” doesn’t make it so.

Via Yelp via the Washington Post

The Des Moines Register:

Everyone has an opinion on who makes the best pizza, and to that end, the Washington Post took a different approach to determine the tops nationwide. The editors there started with the 7.5 million Yelp reviews of 85,000 pizza establishments nationwide, developed a formula to figure out the best — taking into consideration the rating, number of reviews, and how often reviews mentioned that particular pizza style, the Post said — and then presented it to the public.

The Des Moines Register, winner 17 Pulitzer Prizes, was once a proud newspaper. Now they run stories rewriting data journalism about pizza from the Washington Post.

NPR Quits Twitter

National Public Radio has left Twitter, like list of people, after being “state-affiliated” like Chinese and Russian propagandists. The organization won’t return even if the label is changed, says NPR CEO John Lansing, who told in-house media reporter David Folkenflik:

“At this point I have lost my faith in the decision-making at Twitter. I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again.”

Better late than never.

Death of a Pig 15 Years Later

It was 15 years ago today I participated in a pig slaughter.

The bullet had to pierce the pig’s thick skull to stun it. The shot’s angle and position are everything. If you drew an X from each ear to the opposite eye, I was aiming for the small depression that lay in the middle.

Even at point-blank, getting in position to shoot a pig is a dance with an unwilling partner. I had the added trouble of working up the nerve to pull the trigger. You have to shoot the pig with it looking you in the eye.

After the pig murder, I produced a rather morbid multimedia package. In the past couple weeks, I took a little bit of time to put it back online, but, sadly it’s missing some parts, maybe forever, due to the death of a video-hosting service and Flash.

The story of the life, death and rebirth of a pig was about how we’d lost connection with our food and the skills that were once required to eat. Online news has gotten really sophisticated, but when I produced the story, a lot of news organizations were still trying to figure out how to shift from traditional media to the Internet (and many were scrambling as the financial crisis of 2008 was bludgeoning the news industry much as it is again today).

At the time I was writing about the loss of knowledge and skills, I was oddly unaware of how we were on the cusp of the lost of other knowledge and skills in the industry I was training for. So it goes.

It was designed for an internet that was early in the iPhone era, and we didn’t have great non-Flash solutions yet. The web design (Calibri?!) and technology (non-responsive?!) is somewhat antiquated. And in master-of-none form, it’s clear I’m neither a great photographer nor videographer. Nevertheless, the work, I think, holds up pretty well, and I’d invite you to explore The Death of a Pig: a Pig in Three Parts.

What’s Left for Gannett to Cut?

Zachary Oren Smith, formerly of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, reporting for Iowa Public Radio:

The nation’s largest chain of newspapers is shrinking much of its physical footprint in Iowa. IPR News confirmed Gannett Media will not renew its office leases for the Ames Tribune and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Leases expire in April.

The official word is this is part of a “flexible workplace model,” and no jobs are being cut (this time). Of course, there’s only a couple of reporters left, and most of the other functions (layout, editing, production) have been centralized out of town.

Legacy media hasn’t been robust for years, but the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area is left with The Gazette, KCRG, Iowa Public Radio and Little Village as critical sources of original reporting.

Dead Red

I’ve been a Netflix member since 2004, and found a lot of value in the service since the disks-in-the-mail days of yore, when getting a livestream of Starz was just a weird freebie throw in.

But when I look at all the services I pay for each month — currently including HBO Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, Prime Video and now a free trial of Hulu — it’s the first one I’d cut.

No wonder Netflix is hurting. How did the one-time leader go wrong?

I think it’s death by a thousand cuts. Here are my pain points:

Netflix doesn’t integrate with Apple TV

I started my Hulu trial because I wanted to watch Community and it suddenly seemed to disappear from Prime Video but Apple suggested I watch it on Hulu. It was available to me through Netflix, but I didn’t know that! Even if I fall in love with something, if it’s not on what I think of as my TV front page. While Nintendo and a whole bunch of others beat out Apple TV (the device, not the app and not the service) for marketshare, it suggests to me Netflix’s attitude that was believing its prominence made it special seemingly blinded to its competition.

Netflix gave up on its “queue” for a “list”

In the old days, there was this moment of angry-turned-joy when something made it to the top of your queue and showed up in the mail so you watched it and found a new favorite. The move to a list, necessitated by the constant churn of the catalog due to streaming-right fights, went that joy was lost. It also turned Netflix from a “we’ve got everything” place for movie lovers to a “we’ve always got something to watch” place for people who just wanted flickering lights.

Netflix doesn’t show me good stuff to watch

At one time, Netflix was really interested in building a better recommendation engine until it wasn’t. Now I get trending stuff that doesn’t fit me. I can’t find good movies or TV to watch, there’s nothing that drives surprise and delight, and its recommendations suck. I’m aware of the big cultural moments (Squid Games, Stranger Things) but Netflix doesn’t seem interested in finding off-the-beaten-path stuff I might like.

Netflix has a shotgun approach to exclusives

I trust HBO to deliver great TV, and it has an amazing back catalog. Apple TV+ has also constantly delivered great shows that are at least worth trying out. Disney+ always seems to have a show I’d like to try (folks, Andor is really good, even if you don’t like Star Wars). I kept bumping into shows I wanted to try (The Bear, Only Murders in the Building) that were on Hulu and eventually game in. There’s nothing I’m excited about on Prime, but it fills the “other stuff” category for me and comes bolted on to other Amazon services that I pay for. I liked, but didn’t love, Stranger Things and felt the same about many other Netflix originals.

Netflix has overvalued itself in my life

I now pay $20 a month for Netflix because I want 4K. They’ve also tied the number of screens you can use at a time to that, which isn’t a big deal to me but feels cheap (we probably use two concurrently). Apple TV+ is $7, Hulu is $15 without ads, Disney+ is $11 and Amazon Prime is $15 and the video feels like an add-on to free shipping.

Lyz Lenz’s Departure from The Gazette

On Oct. 5, 2020, Lyz Lenz tweeted that The Gazette had “fired” her that morning. This is the email I sent to Executive Editor Zach Kucharski and Opinions Editor Todd Dorman.

Zack and Todd,

No doubt you’ve heard from a number of folks regarding Lyz Lenz’s departure from The Gazette. I wanted to express my concern to you both about this development, while acknowledging that I have little insight into why it may have occurred and that tweets are hardly a solid factual foundation on which to build a strong understanding.

I will miss Lyz’s attention, her reporting and her strong-and-sometimes-divisive voice. This is a loss for The Gazette‘s opinion pages.

But my larger concern is that the timing of her departure leads to the appearance that The Gazette is kowtowing to Republican Party and its political candidates in Iowa who made the unfortunate choice to refuse invitations to engage with your editorial board because of her columns or, perhaps more simply, the headlines they carried.

I suspect that is not the reasoning.

I hope The Gazette will offer its readers, subscribers and community some insight into the decision making, and will continue to cover our community with clear eyes and thoughtful commentary.

Yours, Nick Bergus

24 Hours After Caucusing, Nevada’s Results are Coming Slower Than Iowa’s Were. Why Won’t Nevada be a Punchline?

As some folks are pointing out, the results from the Nevada caucuses (results currently show 60% reported 24 hours later) are behind where Iowa’s were (about 62% reported after 24 hours) after a day, even with Nevada’s four-day early voting head start, but we’re not getting rending of cloth from the press. The Nevada Caucuses, even with a challenge from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, won’t be labeled a disaster, debacle or worse.


I think it’s pretty simple.

Democrats in Nevada did a better job setting expectations than we did in Iowa.

When the Iowa Democratic Party said it would have results rolling out starting in the evening of the caucuses, media laid its plans, including live coverage. When, unexpectedly, there weren’t results to report, all the press had to report was the lack of results.

So it did.

In Nevada, they made no such promise.

Having failed to set realistic expectations, the IDP failed to fill the information gap so it was filled with freaking out and conjecture.

When a space exists between what people want to know and what knowledge is publicly available, there’s what I call an information gap. And that gap creates a vacuum that will be filled, if not with real information, then with conjecture.

The political press calls this punditry.

Remember how the IDP phone lines were being clogged by media asking for updates (and a bunch of 4chan assholes)? In a crisis, staying quiet and hoping it will blow over is always attractive to the people who have to talk to the press, but it rarely works out well.

Iowa’s results were supposed to be primetime programming. Nevada’s weren’t.

There’s a huge difference between what the press will do on a Monday night in primetime and what it wants in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Weekends are when you’ve got the B team on the anchor desk. The big Sunday stories were filed on Friday. The press and its audiences are out to dinner, watching sports or drinking.

Late Friday is the traditional time to dump news you don’t want covered. Saturday afternoon is a good day for voting, but a bad time for news coverage.

Monday night, in primetime, is high-viability, especially when you’ve got your A team all ready to talk about results from the first-in-the-nation contest.

Nevada has a clear winner and thus a story.

This is the most important one. “Media bias” isn’t left or right. It’s a bias towards narrative and conflict.

Bernie Sanders won first in Nevada and the AP called it pretty early. The story is now “Sanders is the true frontrunner for the nomination” while other campaigns fight it out for second place.

And the conflict piece has been nicely filled in, too, with anti-Bernie and pro-Bernie and anti-anti-Bernie factions fighting over if he can or can’t beat Trump and what needs to happen next for a non-Sanders candidate to get the nomination.

Media needs a narrative. Without a clear winner, Iowa’s was “disaster”. With a winner, which is kinda the point of these nominating contests, Nevada has a narrative.

Better tech writing

Brian Lam does technology writing differently at The Wirecutter. Instead of writing about every single dodad and gizmo, he writes “a list of great technology,” aiming to only tell readers what the best thing in a category is. Of course he wrote about the new iPhone:

These things are always the same. But better in small but meaningful ways. That’s all I remember from today’s news, really.

It’s also pretty much the same thing Apple says on their website and on the website of every other publication that writes about this stuff. It’s also pretty much what I wrote for the 4s and the 4 and the 3gs and the 3g, too. I feel despair when I am forced to write words that provide no service or additional value, but there’s a balancing act between saying what I think is useful and saying what people want to hear, so here we are.

Should you get one? If you want, sure.

His post is short, to the point, and not breathless, all of which is, sadly, refreshing in the world on online-gadget writing.