Perhaps you have seen this speech Kevin Spacey gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival last month. It’s been making the rounds on tech and entertainment sites, and has more than a million views. But if not, please take four minutes for the pithiest explanation I’ve heard of the disruption that has upended the television and motion picture industries. [Video link]
A few excerpts:
The success of the Netflix model—releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once—proves one thing: The audience wants the control. They want the freedom….
Through this new form of distribution we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it….
If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant … For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game Of Thrones on their computer. It’s all content. It’s all story….
The audience has spoken They want stories. They’re dying for them.
It’s not just drama. Major League Baseball figured out six years ago that people wanted access to their games on many more platforms than the traditional TV screen or radio receiver. They created MLB.com, which allows radio and TV broadcasts of every major league game from spring training to the World Series to be played on any computer, tablet, or smartphone, and fans were delighted to pay a reasonable fee for that flexibility.
If Spacey is right, and I think he is, then the Canadian companies that buy the rights to US content, and then insist that US websites carrying that content block Canadian viewers, will pay a big price for robbing viewers of control.
H/T: Leo Laporte and Christine Crawford
Please read journalist Peter Maass’s spellbinding account of how reporter/polemicist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras collaborated in bringing to light NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures about massive illegal spying by the US Government.
Seriously, if you read nothing else this week, do read this richly detailed, 10,000-word account of how Snowden made contact with Poitras, how Poitras roped Greenwald into the project, and how they communicate privately when all three are targeted by the most sophisticated electronic spying in the world.
It reads alternately like a novel, a spy thriller, a quirky travelog, and most importantly, like detailed expose of the American security apparatus run amok. I am not by inclination paranoid, but this article convinced me I need to learn how to encrypt electronic communications. There’s even a Q&A Maass conducted with Snowdon over multiply encrypted links to his Moscow hideout.
Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices; dishes tend to pile up in the sink; the living room contains a table and a couch and a large TV, an Xbox console and a box of poker chips and not much else. The refrigerator is not always filled with fresh vegetables. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.
Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. Over the four days I spent there, he was in perpetual motion, speaking on the phone in Portuguese and English, rushing out the door to be interviewed in the city below, answering calls and e-mails from people seeking information about Snowden, tweeting to his 225,000 followers (and conducting intense arguments with a number of them), then sitting down to write more N.S.A. articles for The Guardian, all while pleading with his dogs to stay quiet. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.
Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden. They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.
It’s a wonderful piece of reporting about a courageous pair of reporters picking up the slack left by the supine mainstream news giants.
If Maass’s 10,000 words don’t exhausted you, please also check out a much shorter piece, The NSA Is Commandeering the Internet on The Atlantic’s website. Security expert Bruce Schneier (he coined the phrase, “security theatre”) pleads with executives of giant technology company’s to fight back against US government spying.
Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we’ve learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it’s easier that way.
I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight.
Lastly, The Takeaway podcast has a good interview with Maass about his piece.
[*Yes, I know, Greenwald and Poitras are not a couple in the usual sense, and only Greenwald resides in Rio. Poitras, a Massachusetts native, lives in New York City when she is not in precautionary exile, as she is now. In this 2012 Salon story, Greenwald details the harassment Poitras faces in her home country.]
The tagline at the top of this blog, which many readers will recognize as a phrase from the 1967 Beatles song, A Day in the Life, was also the name of a column I wrote for the Boston Globe, where I worked from 1968 to 1970.
It was my first job in journalism. The Globe was the most progressive big city daily in the United States, the only one to favour unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam. It was also a great place to work. In an era of political and cultural tumult, the paper’s managers reached out to rebellious young readers in a concerted way. I was 23 when I started there. The paper’s senior editors indulged me with generosity I still marvel at 45 years later.
One weekend in 1970, the Nixon White House called reporters in on short notice. The Globe’s regular White House crew was unavailable, so Tom Oliphant, who would go on to cover 10 presidential campaigns and share in a Pulitzer Prize, got his first White House assignment on 10 minutes notice.
Oliphant, in his early 20s, arrived in the sneakers and casual clothes he’d been wearing when summoned. He found Press Secretary Ron Ziegler and introduced himself as a Globe staffer. Ziegler looked the young reporter up and down with evident disdain and said, “Figures.”
Tom Winship, the Globe’s editor-in-chief at the time, recounted the incident to me with a satisfied chuckle.
The Globe consistently ranks among the top 10 U.S. newspapers. Over the last half century, it has won 22 Pulitzer Prizes, often for exposing wrongdoing in high places. It won for “massive and balanced coverage of the Boston school desegregation crisis” (during which bullets flew through windows in the paper’s newsroom),”courageous, comprehensive coverage in its disclosures of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church,” and a series on racism that included self-criticism.
All the while, circulation plummeted. In 1993, when the New York Times Company bought the Globe from the family that had piloted it for a century, it had a weekday circulation of 506,996. Today, Monday to Friday circulation stands at 245,572, a 52 percent drop. With plunging newspaper sales, ad revenue hemorrhaged, and the rise of the internet vaporized lucrative classified sales.
Last week, the New York Times Company sold the Globe to the owner of the Boston Red Sox, thefolklorically named John Henry. The sale price was $70 million, a figure the Times story called “a staggering drop in value.” For a sense of perspective, consider that six years ago, the Red Sox paid the same amount, $70 million, for the services of outfielder J.D. Drew. Given that the Times will retain the Globe’s estimated $110 million pension liabilities, you could say the price was negative $40 million.
Included in the sale were another Massachusetts daily, the Worcester Telegram; Gazette; the websites BostonGlobe.com, Boston.com, and Telegram.com; the direct-mail marketing company Globe Direct; and the Times’s 49 percent interest in Metro Boston, a free daily akin to Halifax Metro. The Times paid $1.1 billion for the Globe in 1993, and six years later spent another $295 million to acquire the Telegram & Gazette—a total investment of nearly $1.4 billion. Twenty years later it sold them for 1/20th of that amount.
Within days, news of the Globe sale was eclipsed by the Graham family’s sale of the once mighty Washington Post to Amazon founder and internet visionary Jeff Bezos for $250 million. In public statements, Bezos spoke respectfully of the paper’s role as a public trust, but speculation abounds as to his reasons for the purchase. Is it a billionaire’s act of philanthropy, to ensure an important institution’s survival? A Washington lobbying tool, as Amazon comes under increasing legislative and regulatory scrutiny? Or does Bezos believe his proven insights into consumer dynamics in the internet age can restore elusive value to journalistic enterprises?
You have to hope it’s door number three. We are surely in the final decade or two of the printed newspaper. Bezos, who developed the Kindle, is as well placed as anyone to figure out what will replace dead tree editions. As Nova Scotians watch the Chronicle-Herald struggle through the same disruptions that humbled the Globe and the Post, let’s hope he finds a model that works.
After months of counting tiny beans, Nova Scotia’s politician-despising, publicity-loving, limelight-hogging Auditor General has grudgingly conceded what everyone knows: MLA Michel
Sampson Samson lives in Arichat and fully qualifies for reimbursement of necessary Halifax expenses. [See: news release. Full report (pdf)]
Then, predictably, Lapointe found a mean-spirited technicality on which he could deny Samson those legitimate expenses. Samson’s Halifax residence doesn’t qualify because it’s a “house” not an “apartment.” What tendentious pettifoggery!
The campaign to deprive this elected MLA of the tools needed to do his job effectively was cooked up by a not very discerning CBC reporter, who couldn’t distinguish legitimate living expenses from a Mike Duffy-style scandal, then seized upon by hyper-partisans in the premier’s office who sought to turn it to their advantage. Caucus-attending Speaker Gordie Gosse and AG Lapointe should have given this nonsense short shrift, as Conflict of Interest Commissioner (and retired Supreme Court Justice) Merlin Nunn did, when Samson brought the issue to him six months ago.
An untold aspect of this story is the rank sexism that pervades the whole affair. The Speaker and the AG judged Samson almost entirely on his wife’s employment and whereabouts. One can scarcely imagine the hellfire that would rain down on anyone who applied that standard to the entitlements of a female NDP member—and rightly so.
Samson’s wife, the lawyer Claudine Bardsley-Samson, works as manager of industrial relations for Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. There aren’t a lot of positions for someone of her professional stature in Richmond County. The NDP has campaigned ad nauseam on its claim to represent “today’s families,” a group that presumably includes couples, from construction workers to high-end professionals, whose employment opportunities complicate their living arrangements.
The end result is an invidious, sexist, hypocritical assault on an elected MLA that deprives the people of Richmond of their rights as electors—while showing reckless disregard for the reputation of elected men and women. An unelected accountant who has built his career by exploiting public hostility to politicians has hamstrung the elected MLA for Richmond, and if his literal interpretation is applied retroactively, imposed a significant fine on him for doing his job.
Here’s an important distinction. Jacques Lapointe has never faced voters, and never been elected to any position in Nova Scotia. MLA Michel Samson has faced Nova Scotia voters five times, and won each election by a wide margin. When he faces them again this fall, he will trounce his NDP opponent.
Anyone who follows public affairs in a serious way understands that rising public scorn for politicians poses a threat to the commonweal. When legitimate abuses occur, as with those Nova Scotia MLAs who falsely claimed expenses, they need to be exposed, corrected, and where appropriate, punished. But to apply the same rigour to meaningless technical violations is short-sighted and destructive. Mr. Justice Nunn took pains to recognize this reality in his decision; as is his wont, Lapointe ran roughshod over it.
Lapointe’s term expires in 2016. When the legislature convenes after the fall election, it should restore what are now officially acknowledged to be Samson’s legitimate living allowance, and begin planning for a replacement Auditor General with more respect for democracy.
I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, and often feel I come away with fresh insights into the way the world works, as opposed to how it appears to work. But I will read Gladwell with more skepticism after reading a spectacular takedown in an unlikely blog called “Ask-a-Korean.”
If you have followed media coverage of the July 6 crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco Airport, you have doubtless heard speculation that Korea’s culture of deference to authority, a culture deeply embedded in the Korean language, played a role in the crash. This theory owes much to Gladwell, who devoted a chapter of his best-selling 2008 book Outliers to “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” Discussing the book with CNN, Gladwell said:
The single most important variable in determining whether a plane crashes is not the plane, it’s not the maintenance, it’s not the weather, it’s the culture the pilot comes from.
The anonymous author of Ask-a-Korean (a 32-year-old, Korean-born, US-educated lawyer in Manhattan) begins his assault on Gladwell’s “culturalist” explanations of airplane mishaps obliquely. (I take the liberty of quoting at length owing to The Korean’s wry Canadian reference):
[While watching a tournament, I] fixate on the golfers’ mistakes. When I see a golfer hitting a poor shot, I take a moment trying to recreate the swing in my mind, trying to see if I could identify what went wrong. I picture the golfer making his approach to the ball; the stance; the back swing; the alignment of the club head when the back swing reaches the top; the down swing; location of the hip during the down swing; the follow-through. Then I think about the path of the ball flight, and try to identify which part of the swing contributed to the deviation from the intended path.
And then I do something peculiar. I look up which country the golfer is from. And if I happen to remember a poor shot from a different golfer of the same country, I try to see the bigger picture in addition to their respective swings. I start wondering if there is something about that country’s culture that affects their golf swings. In the particular golf tournament attended, I saw two Canadian players hitting a poor shot. One golfer hit it short in the 10th hole, dropping the ball into the water. The other, in the narrow 16th hole, badly sliced the drive and ended up in the woods. Quickly, I mustered every scrap of knowledge I had about Canadian culture in my head, and I tried to connect the dots: is there something about Canadian culture that leads to poor golf shots by two different golfers at two different holes?
Just kidding–of course I am kidding. Obviously, I did not think about connecting Canadian culture and poor golf shots, nor do I ever try to connect any national culture with poor golf shots. Nobody in the right mind would do such a thing. We all know that.
But if we all know that, why do so many people do the same thing when it comes to airplane crashes?
[Here] we come to the greatest harm that culturalism causes: like racism, culturalism destroys individual agency. Under culturalism, a huge group of individuals are rendered into a homogeneous mass of automatons, eternally condemned to repeat the same mistakes. We still don’t know what exactly caused the Asiana crash. But it is hardly outlandish to think that it was a simple human error. To err is human, as they say–but culturalist explanation robs Korean pilots of this basic humanity. Because of our culturalist impulse, a Korean pilot cannot even make a mistake without tarnishing all other Korean pilots.
To progress is human as well. Even without Gladwell’s deck-stacking, it is true that Korean Air had a spotty safety record. Like Korea itself, the airline grew extremely fast between the 1970s and 1990s. Because of its very fast growth, even subpar pilots got a job, and training became spotty. The Flight 801 crash in 1997 did serve as a wake-up call for KAL and Korean government, which regulates KAL. Korean government initiated an aggressive turn-around, and the safety record did turn around. As Patrick Smith of Slate put it, 2008 assessment by ICAO, the civil aviation branch of the United Nations, ranked South Korea’s aviation safety standards, including its pilot training standards, as nothing less than the highest in the world, beating out more than 100 other countries. But if the culturalist explanation is to be believed, none of this matters. As long as Koreans remain Koreans, they will communicate poorly, and they will be more prone to plane crashes.
The provincial government has changed the Labour Standards Code to protect the jobs of parents who take time off because their child is critically ill or has fallen victim to a serious crime.
The changes guarantee a parent’s right to return to work at the same pay and working conditions after:
- up to 37 weeks if they have been caring for a critically ill child
- up to 104 weeks if their child has died as a result of a crime
- up to 52 weeks if a child has disappeared as a result of a crime.
Who could possibly question measures to ease the suffering of frightened or grieving parents?
Answer: Only those who think about the issue for five minutes.
First, the program is set up backwards. The most generous leave ought to go to a parent who is actively caring for a critically ill child. A parent whose child has disappeared may warrant similar relief, but it’s hard to see why their entitlement should be 40 percent greater.
The death of a child will alter its parents’ lives forever, but it does the family no service to encourage a two-year break from work following such a death. Surely it would be better to help grieving parents resume the normal external patterns of life after a reasonable break.
Second, how did crime get mixed up in these rules? Why should a parent whose child dies because of a crime get their job guaranteed for two years, when a parent whose child dies from accident or illness gets no job security? Can their grief or their recovery be parsed so differently?
The explanation lies buried in the second-to-last paragraph of the provincial news release:
Nova Scotia is the third province to bring its labour code in line with federal changes in employment insurance benefits.
This is Harperism run amok. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government pandered to the public’s exaggerated fear of crime by extending unemployment benefits in this skewed manner. For reasons that are impossible to fathom, Darrell Dexter’s NDP government decided to play along by altering the Labour Standards Code to match.
Sad to see our society’s television-driven penchant for exaggerating crime and fetishizing grief enshrined in law for crass political reasons.
[T]his was the first multiple-fatality crash involving a major airline in North America since November, 2001. The streak has ended, but it lasted nearly twelve years, with some 20,000 commercial jetliners taking off and landing safely in this country every single day — an astonishing run. Is it perverse to suggest that Saturday’s accident, awful as it was, serves to underscore just how safe commercial flying has become? [Emphasis added]
20,000 x 365 days x 12 years = 87.6 million major airline flights, a jaw-dropping safety achievement.
Smith’s blog and that of James Fallows offer fascinating analysis of the crash, pitched mainly to lay readers. Another takeaway: That initial media and “aviation expert” speculation about the causes of a crash almost always proves to be wide of the mark.
[Click images for full-sized image.]
This is perplexing The CBC’s very capable reporters and editors know full well that Boudreau held no commercial or sport fishing license of any kind. They know his status as a non-fisherman is both a key fact, and a probable factor, in the events leading to his disappearance.
Never discount the role of haste in deadline journalism. Toronto web editors who are not the primary reporters covering this story may have simply assumed that a man pulling lobster traps on a boat in Nova Scotia must be a fisherman. If so, then presumably the network will promptly correct the two stories here and here (although one of them has already been online almost a week).
If, however, the CBC has made a considered editorial decision to describe Boudreau a fisherman, that would be a further sign the network is allowing itself to slip into a pro-prosecution mindset. Misidentifying Boudreau as a fisherman is essential to portraying the events as a “dispute” over fishing “territory,” which is a but prosecution-friendly frame for the case.
Already contributing to an apprehension of bias on the part of the CBC are the network’s emotive and credulous account of the family dynamics in the case, and its continued failure to look into allegations, widespread in the community, that little or nothing was done in response to many complaints against Boudreau lodged with the RCMP and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Many in the community want a formal inquiry into that aspect of the case, but CBC listeners and viewers remain in the dark on this score.
The CBC’s coverage of this story ought to concern the network’s journalists and managers.
On Wednesday, I questioned CBC reporter Phonse Jessome’s reporting on the Philip Boudreau killing, and the broader media failure to probe allegations the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP received many complaints about Boudreau’s chronic lobster thievery and trap vandalism over the years, but did little or nothing.
In an essay on the CBC’s website, Jessome elaborates on his approach to the story (though he makes no overt reference to my criticism). Unfortunately, he sheds no light on why the CBC continues to skirt the DFO-RCMP angle.
On Monday, CBC reporter Phonse Jessome recounted sensational excerpts from what purported to be a confession by one of the fishermen accused of killing Philip Boudreau June 1. He supplemented his reporting with editorial comments that portrayed the killing as an unfathomable escalation of a feud over “fishing territory.”
Based on widely known but lightly reported facts, the escalation is not unfathomable. To portray it as arising out of a “feud” over “territory” is to adopt one side in highly contentious matter.
Tuesday, while reporting a brief court appearance by the accused men, Jessome added more editorial commentary, stressing the trauma experienced by the Boudreau’s family, portraying defense lawyer Joel Pink as “crafty,” and accusing defense lawyer Nash Brogan of “blaming the victim” for comments that, in my view, gave a more accurate account of the backstory than the CBC’s.
There’s an odd uncertainty about exactly what documents the CBC possesses or has seen. At various points, CBC newscasters, program hosts, and Jessome himself described the reporter as having “obtained the police file,” “obtained parts of the police file,” “read the police file,” “read parts of the police file,” and even, in one statement by Jessome, as having “read the file several times.”
Throughout his reports, Jessome appears to be describing the statement, not quoting from it, and quotation marks are conspicuously absent from the CBC’s written version of the story.
These discrepancies may amount to nothing more than sloppiness, but the CBC ought to clear them up. Knowing first hand how thoroughly CBC producers and lawyers vet stories like this, I find the circumlocution unusual. There is a big difference between having obtained (and retained a copy of) an entire police file, and having been shown parts of a file selected by someone with an interest in the case.
There’s another problem. Where do you get access to a police file in a murder prosecution? Almost certainly from the police or the prosecutors. Given that the death appears to have grown out of an altercation, police and prosecutors may have trouble getting a second degree murder conviction against any one of the accused, let alone all three*. Whether selected by police, prosecutors, or Jessome, the précis Jessome presented served to buttress a charge of murder, rather than manslaughter, against the man who pulled the trigger, and to implicate the two other crewmen in the most serious elements of the crime.
Any reporter given access to the electrifying documents Jessome saw or obtained would have reported their contents. Still, I wish the CBC had gone beyond its rote caution that the information “has not been admitted into evidence, or tested in court,” and examined the reasons why someone on one side of the case may have wanted this part of the police file to come out now, months before trial.
Throughout his reporting, Jessome adopts the line of the dead man’s family and supporters to misrepresent the killing as a feud arising out of a dispute over “fishing territory.” There is no territory in the lobster fishery. Any fisherman licensed to catch lobster in
District 26 District 29 is legally entitled to set traps anywhere around Isle Madame. Informal traditional family fishing berths may be deeply felt, but they have no legal standing.
In any case, Boudreau was not a fisherman, a fact the news media still fails to grasp more than three weeks after the incident. Here’s an online headline from today’s Cape Breton Post:
And from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:
(To their credit, Herald editors apparently caught the error. Later online versions of the story omit the fisherman reference.)
Even if Jessome accepts the local tradition of family-based lobster berths, Boudreau, as a non-fisherman, had no territory to defend by cutting traps. What he did have was a long criminal record for property crimes. The community knew him as a bully who, among other things, frequently threatened to burn down the homes of anyone who crossed him.
For years, Boudreau used a small motorboat to steal lobster from the traps of licensed fishermen, then brazenly sold them by the side of the road in Isle Madame. He took sport in speeding past working fishermen, taunting them by waving lobsters he had just removed from their traps.
This spring, Boudreau escalated his vandalism by cutting the buoy lines from traps of fishermen who allegedly encroached on an area where his brother liked to fish.
In a local store on the night before his death, Boudreau encountered one of the men who would be accused of killing him the next day. He brandished a knife at the fisherman, and used it to demonstrate how he had cut the lobsterman’s traps.
Let me pause here in anticipation of those who may accuse me of justifying the taking of human life. Murder and manslaughter are never justified. The people of Isle Madame are rightly horrified at the events of June 1. I share their horror and dismay, but sugar-coating the events leading up to the crime serves no useful purpose.
Today’s media have a growing appetite for glorifying victims of crime that I find distasteful—and sometimes suspect. Maudlin, one-sided portrayals of the family dynamics in this case do nothing to illuminate the events.
This leads me to my greatest objection to news coverage of the Boudreau murder. Fishermen and others have complained to authorities about Boudreau’s flagrant violations of fisheries law for years. One official told me he believed more than 20 complaints had been lodged with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
In one case, Boudreau reportedly told a local fisheries officer he would burn down his house “with you inside,” a threat that goes far beyond fisheries law to violate Criminal Code prohibitions on death threats.
There is a widespread impression on Isle Madame that little, if anything, was done in response to these complaints. At a minimum, the RCMP and DFO owe the public a full account of how they responded. Some residents I’ve spoken with believe an inquiry is in order. Barring an early and satisfactory explanation from the two agencies, I am inclined to agree.
This long history of complaints to law enforcement agencies is unquestionably a story worthy of Phonse Jessome’s investigative talents—a story every news organization in the province has ignored.
* In principle, police and especially prosecutors are supposed to avoid approaching criminal cases with a mindset that equates getting a conviction with winning. They should certainly avoid selective leaks to build public support for their case before trial. The Public Prosecution Service owes Nova Scotians an explanation of this leak.