Friday, December 23, 2011

That Webster's lady has a blog
Allow me to note that Kory Stamper now has a blog. Stamper is one of the three people (the woman with various shades of red hair, not the woman with glasses or the bald guy) whose videos come up when you look up words on Webster's Dictionary website.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Monetizing content, 1916 style

I found this quote in 1916 trade magazine for silent movie theater owners:
"The stories of 1916 are no better than the stories of 1716 nor of AD 1 nor will those of 2016 be any better. A prize offer of a million dollars would not bring forth a story better than thousands for which the authors received a skimped handful of shillings or francs or dollars or told for the mere love of telling a tale."
(The Moving Picture World, Aug. 5, 1915, p. 930)

In other words, good writers will write the same copy for $1 million or for $1 or for nothing (or maybe even pay for the privilege). That's something the Internet hasn't changed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Leaving college behind

While listening to Steven Levy talk about his new book, "In the Plex" about Google, it struck me how many of the Net's innovators -- Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg -- dropped out of some level of college. I'm sure this question has been explored elsewhere, but I wonder what the fact that the true innovators of our era leave college says about higher education. It seems that now college is merely a place where bright people meet each other and go off to their personal laboratories to create. This goes to a theme that is affecting newspapers as well as education, that the means and substance of what we do has changed so significantly, that we don't actually communicate much of value anymore. We are in the midst of such a paradigm shift that no institution has yet caught up to a point that it can reliably educate on the basis of the current state.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A voice from the past

I was only 12 or 13 when I was first introduced to A Prairie Home Companion and its host, Garrison Keillor. A family friend, one of the most insightful, cerebral and (do I even have to say?) troubled people I have ever known had recently separated from his wife, and we visited him for Saturday dinner in an old house much to spacious for its bachelor occupant. When 6 p.m. rolled around, he turned on the radio already tuned to the NPR affiliate in Columbus, Ga., and out poured the musings of the second most insightful and cerebral person I have ever heard.
Garrison Keillor's show is of and for his home in rural Minnesota, but it resonates with everyone who has somewhere they call home. Keillor has done the improbable, resurrecting the genre of radio variety show with folksy monologues of Lake Wobegon's Norwegian bachelor farmers, folk singers, fiddlers and a sound effects guy doing bird calls with his mouth. It is an anachronism, as unlikely as a revival of Vaudeville or the Lawrence Welk Show, complete with tap dancers and champagne bubbles.
What makes Keillor's show so effective is its authenticity. Though the sponsors (Powder Milk Biscuits, “heaven's, they're tasty and expeditious!” and the Ketchup Advisory Board) are fake, the nostalgia is real. Garrison has a true affinity for the personalities of a world that only can exist in our memories, for songs that are only appealing in their simplicity and humor that tends to make us smile instead of laugh.
Like any personality-driven institution, from Mr. Rogers to Paul Harvey to Charles Schulz, you know that “A Prairie Home Companion” is destined to end when Keillor succumbs to our common adversaries, age and mortality. He has already announced a date for retirement, spring 2013, when he says he hopes to fade into the woodwork and hand off the microphone to an as-yet-unnamed replacement. But everyone knows that Lake Wobegon will fade like Brigadoon without him.
On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Keillor will bring a version of his show, currently on summer hiatus, to the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth in what is called the Summer of Love tour. A few tickets remain. I will be there. And I will be reminded of my isolated, insightful, cerebral, troubled friend, alone is a house that is too big for him. Keillor's show is just like that, an isolated, insightful calming voice in a world that is too big and too busy for a place like Lake Wobegon to exist anymore.