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journalism

Forward Thinking

Claire Schwartz: According to the poet Marie Howe, who studied with Joseph Brodsky at Columbia, Brodsky said: “You Americans are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” You’ve written about the relationship between language and the social imagination—in particular, about the ways that totalitarian regimes in Russia and, more recently, the current government in the United States, have eroded public speech. Would you describe what you mean by that and how you see language functioning in public space right now?

Masha Gessen: For totalitarian regimes, language is an instrument of subjugation. It’s a way of controlling both behavior and thought. Attempting to ensure that words mean what the regime says they mean is a way of undermining people’s ability to inhabit a shared reality outside of what the regime says reality is. There are all sorts of tricks the regime performs along the way—such as using a word to mean its opposite, or almost its opposite. 

<em>Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion</em>. By Michelle Dean. Grove Press, 2018. 384p. HB, $26.</p>

A Girl Like You

In his introduction to the first New Journalism collection, published in 1973, Tom Wolfe lists a handful of reporters from the 1930s and ’40s as “Not Half-Bad Candidates” for the title of progenitors of the form, including John Hersey, A. J. Liebling, and George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway’s reportage from Europe. Subsequent anthologies and textbooks on twentieth-century literary journalism mostly agree—including, from the stacks I’d been browsing, The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, a family tree sort of account of “the new journalism revolution; the herculean anthology The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism; and True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism, which essentially unpacks the historical context for this writing.

Illustration by Melody Newcomb

Collusion

She had moved to Germany to be a writer but quickly found there wasn’t very much to write about. Germany was calm. The people were friendly and straightforward. If you managed a few words of German they would say, “Your German is very good.” When you gave them exact change they would smile.

Illustration by Lauren Nassef

The Obituary

When reporting on suicide, the CDC advises against including the suicide method or overly positive descriptions of the deceased for fear of causing contagion. 

Which gave Reporter Jane a problem in reporting on how her dad did what he did. She can’t mention the means, so readers will be left to wonder:

Was it a gun? A rope? A razor? Pills? Poison? A train? A hair-dryer? 

And (according to the CDC), the mildly suicidal among them will begin to salivate.

The Sensationalism-to-Get-Buzz Formula

December 5, 2012

  By Ruminatrix / Flickr / Creative Commons   I have no beef with sensationalism in my entertainment. For years now, I’ve been known to wind down with the sort of television that has no reason for existing, no stakes in the real wo [...]

Fact & Fiction

The Lifespan of a Fact questions the degree of importance of that tacit “contract with the reader.” If a work is presented as nonfiction, must it be true? Or can it be kind of true, or just simply true to the subject as a whole even if not nit-pickingly correct?

9 Counties? 8 Bridges? 7 Million People?

November 23, 2009

The biggest problem with The New York Times' new Bay Area section is that it acts like a foreign desk, treating the region like a surprisingly cosmopolitan colonial outpost.

Police tape, marked DANGEROUS, cordons off a murder scene in Juárez, Mexico.

Call of the Narcocorrido

In the PM newsroom, two men listen to the strains of a narcocorrido drifting from a police scanner. The vague shrill discord of accordions and a brass band echoes in the glass office until a burst of distortion shatters the ill-begotten melody and imposes a staticky silence. They know in the expanding quiet that someone will die tonight.

The Death of the American Dream

We confused the American Dream with simple accumulation. We spent vastly beyond our means in an attempt to give off a false impression of achievement, and that wild spending of borrowed money drove the current crash.

<i>Putin’s Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia</i>, by Steve LeVine. Random House, June 2008. $26

Devilish Forces

In early October 2007, almost three years to the day after I began my career as a journalist in Russia, a conversation with a former CIA agent brought it to an end. 

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