Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
This one’s close to home. Arts culture and reviews are on the decline as news publications go digital-first — criticism just doesn’t drive the clicks and pageviews that are the darlings of the modern editorial office. Some publications are finding creative workarounds, like this Dallas bookstore and this book review site. But if we think the critic’s voice matters, we need to get smart about using data with intuition and experience, not instead of.
The drive to revamp cultural coverage has overtaken major newspapers, including the New York Times, just as the wider public has been rediscovering the virtue of traditional reporting. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential campaign, with its catastrophic feedback loop of fake news and clickbait, people have subscribed in surging numbers to so-called legacy publications. Do these chastened content-consumers really want culture pages dominated by trending topics? Or do they expect papers to decide for themselves what merits attention? One lesson to be learned from the rise of Donald Trump is that the media should not bind themselves blindly to whatever moves the needle.
Carvell Wallace covered the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, walking alone through a sea of ten-gallon hats, exploring the complex cultural roots of cowboy music, and asking what it means to put America first. He’s nailed the tone in this one: straightforward, generous, even a bit sentimental — but not letting anyone off the hook.
To hear Steiger talk about it, ranching — "cowboying," as he called it — is the most natural and beautiful thing in the world. Simple and spiritual. Honest and pure. This view explains why so many people make their pilgrimage to Elko every year, carrying guitars and banjos, fiddles and musical saws, dressed in white hats and turquoise, boots and fringe. They are in love with a lovely thing. It gives them a sense of place, a sense of belonging. It is a celebration of culture. It is, in many ways, a family reunion.
And for me, as always, I just see ghosts.
Print is a conversation; digital is a crowd. Now that we’re past the delirious early days of our fling with social media, it’s easier to see what the printed page is uniquely good for.
The love affair between print, politics, and protest is no new romance. Shuffle down the mag pile marked “protest” and you’ll find the underground press of the 60s and 70s, and feminist titles like Spare Rib. Reach further back and you’ll find the clandestine press of the French Resistance, British political pamphlets of the 18th century, and much more. But now that digital and social media provide so many other means for political protest and debate, why does print remain an essential part of the political media diet?
Why? For a multitude of reasons — unconscious bias, a clubby educational system, assumptions about where genius comes from — that boil down to “because they can be, and they make a lot of money while they’re doing it.” Thanks to Susan J. Fowler and other women who are speaking up, that’s changing. Liza Mundy interviewed dozens of women who’ve survived and succeeded in the tech industry for this story.
“Until we see changes in the way we work, I don’t think we’re going to crack this nut,” Correll says. “I worked with one company that insisted that the best way for good ideas to emerge was to have people on teams screaming their ideas at each other. When you watch these teams work, they literally scream at each other and call each other names. They believe this dynamic is essential to scientific discovery—absolutely essential. I said, ‘Could you at least say you disagree with someone without saying you think they are an idiot?’ ”
Muira McCammon spends hours daily reading about, looking at, and listening to the documented record of humanity at its worst. She turned her researcher’s eye on the survival strategies of her profession.
I kept asking Seccombe how he handled the psychological taxation of performing document analysis on so many pages of trial evidence about Nazi experiments in human freezing, oxygen deprivation (high-altitude), poison gas, and chemical sterilization. How did he endure the onslaught of details about the removal of bones for anatomical research, Jewish skeleton collections, forced sterilization programs, and the mass murder of civilians? I needed to know what he did to relax at the end of the day. “I try to leave the work behind,” he said, “but sometimes I still get nightmares.”
Nearly a year later, I still write to Seccombe almost weekly. When we really need a break, we tend to discuss our latest “canine-friendly moments.” Neither of us owns dogs. We just like to talk about them.