I have a new essay in Stanford Magazine about making the transition from the editorial side to the “product” side (Internet-ese for planning and implementing new features on the web site). Take a look!
I’ve penned a guest essay for media blog Jossip about the relative merits of sites like Brijit and whether people are becoming smarter, or dumber, because of the Internet’s bias toward short-form content. (I think it’s probably the former - at least, I hope so.)
Yes, some people are likely to use the site as a cocktail party cheat-sheet. So it goes. We can argue whether it’s better for people to read deeply or broadly, but the real point is: with the web, you can have both. It’s just that media outlets aren’t really set up to give it to you. The idea behind Brijit is to fill that gap.
Sure, you can cheat, but, as they always told you in elementary school, cheating really just ends up hurting the cheater. At that cocktail party, you might know that some dude set a record by driving from New York to Santa Monica in 31 hours and 4 minutes, but you’ll probably run into some guy who read the whole article and knows the driver was originally inspired by French director Claude Lelouc’s C’etait un Rendez-vous not Cannonball Run. And that guy will probably end up making out with your girlfriend in the host’s bathroom, because your girlfriend will think he’s smarter and better-informed than you are. And then you’ll wish you had actually taken the time to click through, like our editors suggested.
Brijit.com, which I’m serving as Managing Editor of, has a nice little write-up in the Washington Post today. We even get a nice little band-style photo, at least, as far as a bunch of web content people can look like a band.
I’ve just signed on to serve as Managing Editor of Brijit.com, a new Web startup that summarizes and reviews thousands of print and online publications and radio and TV shows to tell you what’s worth reading/listening to/watching. We’re employing a distributed system of writers backed by professional editors (such as myself); the idea is that we’re going to be something like your very well-read friend. I’ll still be based in New York, and if you’re interested in what we’re up to, drop me a line and let me know what you think!
As a birthday present to myself, I recently took a two-and--a-half week vacation to Berlin. A friend asked me to share some thoughts about the trip, so I sent her the following observations - you can find the original at http://www.luxlotus.com/lux_lotus/2007/08/bryan-keefers-l.html.
Things worth knowing about Berlin:
The first thing someone from a big American city is going to notice about Berlin - right after the fact that everyone under 35 speaks English, and their grammar is usually better than yours - is how quiet the city is. It’s so spread out that, if you’re used to the no-one-on-the-street-equals-trouble mode of relating to a city, it’s eerie. The second thing is that there’s graffiti everywhere. It’s as if when the Wall came down, every other wall in town became fair game. Very little of it would qualify as street art - it’s nearly all just tags of various sorts, though there’s also the occasional clever piece, like a girl with a bouquet of roses with a pair of devil horns I saw painted on the outside of a restaurant.
Walking down the street, it immediately becomes obvious that no one here jaywalks. (As a friend put it waiting to cross a street with no traffic whatsoever, “If we were in New York, we’d be there by now.") Berliners argue that they actually do jaywalk, but as far as I can tell this consists of nothing more than occasionally stepping into the street a second or so before the light changes to green. Even horses pulling tourists around in carriages are very careful to stop at red lights, without even being reined in by the driver. And half the town seems to be on a bike - there are special bike lanes on the sidewalks that are paved in red, and if you happen to swerve into one of them, you’re likely to be asked, in German, “Are you retarded?” (Which sounds even meaner in German than in English.)
In terms of street fashion, Berliners seem to have appropriated various pieces of international styles and amalgamated them into some that’s actually distinct. To wit: It’s hard to walk down the street without seeing an “I [Heart] NY” t-shirt and Palestinian scarf (both worn, as best I can tell, without irony). And RayBan aviator sunglasses, everywhere. It’s actually quite striking how internationalized the city’s commerce seems to be, all the way down to brands (Oakley, Mavi jeans) that seem to be making one final attempt to claw their way to hipness via Berlin.
The pinnacle of men’s fashion appears to be the printed t-shirt and the hooded sweatshirt. To find the truly hip(ish) hoody/t-shirt, however, you’ll have to do some hunting - Berliners seem to like to hide their coolest shops. And by “hide” I don’t mean pick an obscure location; I mean you have to endure a very un-American sort of spatial hazing ritual to find the place. The Apartment, one of the cooler boutiques in the city, is tucked away in the basement of a blocky high-rise apartment complex just off one of the main squares. To get into the actual sales area, you have to walk into a ground-level room painted floor-to-ceiling white, then walk down a tiny spiral staircase into an all-black room that sells those hoodies and t-shirts (and some other designer clothes, to be fair). Likewise, other uber-deisgner boutiques like Berlinerklammoten and AM3 are hidden back in the courtyards of buildings you pretty much have to know about in order to find them.
Other things worth knowing:
You can carry booze around on the street. And not New Orleans-style plastic-and-paper-cups-only; people carry bottles around all over the place at all times, morning, noon and night.
Berliners love fake beaches. There are at least three set up along the Spree. The beaches aren’t any nicer than you think they would be.
There are a half-dozen or so Starbucks floating around town, in exactly the sorts of places you’d figured Starbucks would pop up at in a foreign city (near the Brandenberg Gate, etc.). There’s also what is apparently a European chain called Balzac Coffee, which seems to use the same drink sizes, fonts, and even style of dcor as Starbucks. If it were America, Balzac would long ago have been sued out of existence by Starbucks, but it’s a live-and-let-live kind of town, an ethic that apparently extends all the way to corporate franchises.
The restaurants run toward communal seating in a way even New York doesn’t do - if you’re a party of three seated at a table for four, you might just end up having dinner with a single stranger the management puts at the final chair at your table.
There’s a truly horrifying quantity of mosquitoes and wasps buzzing around the city. The wasps tend to visit you while you’re trying to enjoy your coffee at one of the hundreds of outdoor cafes (the wide sidewalks are good for that), though I have yet to see anyone actually be stung. The mosquitoes visit you at night - there’s no air conditioning in the city outside of chic stores and hotels, and sometimes not even then - so apparently everyone sleeps with their windows open.
The best coffee in the city I’ve had in Berlin is at a Portuguese caf called Galao. Sometimes they play Johnny Cash. I also liked a somewhat trendy place called Pony Bar, which reminded me a bit of the Pink Pony in New York, but with less pony.
There are little art galleries all over the place; the art is of varying quality (and it’s often by New York artists, anyway) but it’s impressive to add up the amount of retail space devoted to art here. Not sure who buys it, given that no one seems to actually have a job here, but the effort itself is noteworthy.
There’s an astonishing quality of young hipster parents walking around - I’m told that one neighborhood in the city, Prenzlauer Berg, has what may be the highest birthrate of any place in Europe. On the plus side, since the sidewalks here are so wide, it’s much easier to dodge the strollers than in, say, Park Slope.
The cemeteries here are quite pretty - for most graves, they outline the plot with stones, and fill that in with ivy (some of the only ivy I’ve seen in the town).
Germans like cranes. Where in the U.S. a construction project would use scaffolding, Germans will employ a gigantic crane that towers over the building to move small shovelfuls of dirt and the like.
Women seem to feel very safe here - much more so than in New York. And single women out to dinner or in a caf seem to be left alone, again much more so than in New York.
For those like myself who decide to take a brief jaunt to Prague: It’s a beautiful city. In July, however, it’s crawling with European tourists. Somehow, I don’t think Charles IV had in mind thousands of sweaty foreigners with black socks pulled up their calves walking across his namesake bridge when he had it built. And, no doubt thanks to the tourists, it feels more than a little dodgey - almost as dodgey as Mexico City, I’d say. Also, there are apparently only three women in all of Prague who haven’t dyed at least part of their hair some color that doesn’t occur in nature.
Still, after a couple of weeks in Berlin, I’m left with the impression that there’s a tremendous amount going on below the surface that you have to know how to find in order to find. (Not unlike those boutiques.) And it’s probably pretty wild - like some party where everyone is hanging from the ceiling by straps attached to their nipple piercings, or something. The essential truth of this was confirmed to me by a native Berliner, who told me, “Oh, yes, certainly.”
Maybe the worst thing about my current line of work - consulting for startups - is that I don’t get to talk about anything I’m working on. Which isn’t really what I’m used to; after all, wearing my pundit/emcee hat, I get paid to talk about everything (the more, the better). Sadly, I have now entered the wonderful world of the Nondisclosure Agreement. But it’s all pretty cool, splashy stuff, I promise.
Meanwhile, after a year-long blogging break, I’m going to try to get back in the game with book and movie reviews, musings on politics and the media, and promos for all the stuff I’ve been working on that hasn’t launched yet, once it finally leaves the launching pad.
The Online News Association (based at USC) has just announced finalists for the Online Journalism Awards, and CJR Daily is a finalist for online commentary for small sites. (The awards are for work published June 2005 through June 2006.) That’s in addition to the Webby nomination this year, and the honorable mention from the National Press Club last year. I couldn’t ask for a better parting gift!
I’ve been planning a trip to Mexico for a few months now, so I went up to the Met earlier this week to check out the “Treasures of Sacred Maya Kings” exhibit (on display through September 10). [Update: Took the tip. You can check out my small Flickr photoset for more.]
It’s an art-historical exhibition, focusing on depictions of Maya rulers, rather than larger-scale lintels and sculpture (which were the focus of another Mayan art http://www.thinker.org/legion/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?exhibitionkey=332">exhibit I saw in 2004). The show suffers from a couple of drawbacks: first, the hyperbolic title, which is technically accurate but creates expectations for the casual visitor that the exhibit doesn’t quite match; and second, the hoaky music echoing through the first few rooms of the exhibition space from an introductory video playing in a side gallery. But there are some great pieces on display.
One of the most masterful pieces is the first one the visitor sees: a stela featuring a Maya ruler dressed as the Principal Bird Deity. It’s carved in several levels of relief; the face of the ruler is recessed behind the mask.
There’s also eccentric flint (scroll down) carved in the shape of a lightning god, with shreds of the blue textile it was covered in still affixed; a hematite mirror, made of polished polygonal stones; a remarkable wooden figure (scroll down) from the Met’s permanent collection (probably the best example known of Mayan wooden sculpture, I’ve read); and a jade funerary mask. My favorite item, though, was a set of carved jade pieces from a burial that had been sprinkled with cinnabar, which colors the incised carvings an electric orange on the light-green jade. (You can browse the catalog from one of the earlier stops on the exhibit’s tour.)
And while you’re on the Upper East Side, stop by the Neue Gallery to check out their new Klimt painting (which also happens to be the most expensive painting ever sold). As Lauren notes, they also have a wonderful Austrian-style café on the ground floor, one of the better-kept secrets on the Upper East Side.
I’ll be hosting another in my series of panels for the Strand bookstore on Tuesday, April 24 at 7 PM. This one’s about the state of environmentalism and how young people are doing things differently. As usual, it’s free and open to the public. Here’s the official announcement:
Green Apple Talk #3: Environmentalism Now explores how far the movement has come since the first Earth Day nearly forty years ago. What will the next wave of green culture look like, and how can the individual decisions consumers make have a global impact? Featuring Ramon Cruz, a policy analyst for Environmental Defense, Emily Gertz, environmental journalist and co-author of WorldChanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century, Aaron Naparstek, of Transportation Alternatives and StreetsBlog.org and author of Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage, and Anne-Marie Van Dijk (DNA Models), who supports the work of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Orca Network and Natural Resources Defense Council when she’s not walking the runway for Marc Jacobs, Dries Van Noten, Aquascutum, Libertine and others.
I’ll be hosting a panel this coming Tuesday (the 12th) at The Strand bookstore in downtown NYC. The subject is urban environmentalism, from urban planning to infrastructure to product design, and everything in between. The panelists are authors Alex Marshall and Buzz Poole, and urban planner/blogger Shin-pei Tsay. Free and open to the public, as always.
I’ll be moderating a panel at the Strand bookstore in downtown New York next Tuesday the 14th about the politics of food and the environmental and social impact of the things we eat. Panelists will include Sam Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc., Tim Fitzgerald of Environmental Defense, and Makalé Faber of Slow Food USA. 7:00, free.
I’ll also in Sacramento, California on November 15 for a panel hosted by the Commonwealth Club, discussing what television can do to help reinvigorate politics. I’m told the program (which is free to attend) will be podcasted shortly afterward, and that CSPAN will be taping for later broadcast. And continuing on the food theme, you can get a free lunch if you make a (free) reservation!
I’m just back from a trip to Mexico and Guatemala, visiting Mayan ruins and such. (I’ve posted a small Flickr photoset of some of the more interesting sights.) I’ll be writing more about it as soon as I get over the culture shock of returning to New York.
I have a short piece in the latest print issue of Columbia Journalism Review comparing the Web sites and online strategies of the New York Times and Washington Post. Since (somewhat ironically) it’s not yet online, I’ve gone ahead and put together a PDF download (850 K) of the piece for those who can’t find a print copy of the magazine.
I imagine most of the folks coming here have already seen enough of the whole CJR Daily controversy, but for friends and family who can’t get enough, here’s a roundup.
You can still take a look at the New York Times story that broke the news that my boss, Steve Lovelady, and I had resigned over budget cuts at CJR Daily. (J-School Dean Nick Lemann also released a statement to Romenesko that summed up his side of things.)
There were some interesting comments from Jeff Jarvis (who Lemann took on after Jarvis posted a detailed critique of Lemann’s recent New Yorker piece about online journalism), Businessweek, and the the editor of the Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record. Even CJR Daily’s long-time sparring partner National Review weighed in. (Gawker had the best headline: “We Must Burn the Online Journalism Village in Order to Save It.")
And David Hershman of Editor & Publisher had probably the most insightful analysis I’ve seen anyone write about the whole situation.
Tomorrow night, June 28, I’ll be hosting a panel at the 92nd St. Y/Makor called “Green by Design,” about next-wave enrivonmentalism. The panelists are Dominic Muren, a contributor to TreeHugger.com, Robert Freney, author of Pulse: The Coming Age of Systems and Machines Inspired by Living Things (a friend’s review: “It changed my life!"), and Yael Alkalay, the founder and CEO of red flower.