Tag Archives: Journalism

This Week’s Best Profile – The Trophy Son

Among the thanks I can offer to my father this week, not putting any sporting pressure on my young body is among the top. Perhaps my will-o’-the-wisp frame led him to make the right decision, but point is, the rewards are minimal. See this, from 1998:

The injustice of it all finally brought Mr. Rutherford to express himself again. Mrs. Rutherford, because of her work with the football programs, had been asked to help organize a farewell book for the graduating seniors. There would be ads from parents wishing their children the best — Kyle’s would be one of the few full-page ads — and there would be “wills,” in which seniors would take parting shots at those they were leaving behind.

The wills were supposed to be exclusively from seniors, but Mr. Rutherford later confessed to authoring two anonymous bequests. One, “to all football parents,” offered the number of a good real estate agent: “Call 444-MOVE!!!” Another left Coach Hooks “a new set of earplugs so you can’t hear the other coaches in the district laughing at you.”

Mr. Rutherford also had a suggestion for Kyle’s will. As Mrs. Rutherford recalled, Kyle said, “But Coach Hooks will get mad, won’t he?”

“Well, what can he do to you?” asked Mr. Rutherford. “You’re out of school. You’ll never see him again.”

“Well, okay,” Kyle said, and he sat down to write the will that would change his life. To one comrade, he left “some of my blazing speed”; to another, “some of my smarts I don’t use”; and to a third, a can of Skoal. And just as his daddy told him, Kyle wrote, “To Coach Hooks, I leave a $40,000 debt. I figure you cost me that much with your 37 season.”

Parents going off the deep end, and ruining a kid’s childhood, here.

This Week’s Best Profile – Messi

He’s the best soccer player in the world. His coach is one of the best players, ever. Joy and tension have ensued:

Lionel Messi is not happy. Why is not clear at first, because, as all Spain knows on this cool, sparkling November day, the 22-year-old Argentine soccer god should be ecstatic. Last night his club team, Barcelona, beat archrival Real Madrid before a home crowd of 90,000, and tomorrow looks to be even better: Word has leaked that Messi will be awarded the Golden Ball as 2009 European Footballer of the Year. His annual income, including endorsements, is $46 million. His team is dominating La Liga, the Spanish first division. His game is rounding into breathtaking form.

Still, look at him: hunched in a chair like a kid hauled into the principal’s office, pausing after each question to glance at his manager-brother, Rodrigo, as if to say, Can you get me out of here? Now? The clock is ticking: This is shaping up to be the worst Q and A in history.

Adidas had offered up its soccer show pony for a 30-minute chat, but once it became clear that the discussion would touch on the Argentine national team and its tempestuous coach, Diego Maradona, a coolness set in. The 30 minutes were abruptly slashed to 15, and Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.

“What’s tiresome,” he says in Spanish, “is always being asked the same question.”

S.L. Price delivers this good primer for the World Cup. For some historical context, try these articles from The New Yorker archive. Also, this video didn’t blow me away at first. But it repays repeated viewings:

This Week’s Best Profile – M.I.A.

OK, someone else told you about it first. But you probably didn’t take the time to actually read Lynn Hirschberg’s profile of M.I.A. Please do:

Diplo said, “I made her sing.” He was a producer of her first album as well as “Paper Planes” and was also Maya’s boyfriend for several years. “Maya is a big pop star now, and pop stars sing,” he said. “For me, making this record wasn’t easy. In the past, we were a team. But Maya wanted to show us how much she didn’t need us. In the end, Maya is postmodern: she can’t really make music or art that well, but she’s better than anyone at putting crazy ideas into motion. She knows how to manipulate, how to withhold, how to get what she wants.”

What Maya wants is nearly impossible to achieve: she wants to balance outrageous political statements with a luxe lifestyle; to be supersuccessful yet remain controversial; for style to merge with substance. “If you want to be huge, you have to give up a lot,” Michelle Jubelirer, Maya’s longtime lawyer, told me. “Maya vacillates between wanting to be huge and maintaining her artistic integrity. That’s her dilemma.”

And then, a few paragraphs later:

“I want to be back in New York by May 3,” she said, staring out the window. “I’m invited to the Met Ball, and all my girlfriends say: ‘Oh, the Met Ball! I want to go to the Met Ball!’ ” The annual Met Ball for the Costume Institute is a yearly black-tie gala held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is co-hosted by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. “I’m going with Alexander Wang” — the fashion designer — “and I wanted to wear a dress made out of a torn-up American flag,” Maya added. Wang made a hand-crocheted, gold-metallic dress over a black leather bodice instead.

It’s mean, very mean. Maybe too mean. Just read it.

This Week’s Best Profile – Polygamy

Polygamy sounds great, unless you’re a woman. It’s not all peaches for the guys, either:

It’s not a normal day if Bill doesn’t get himself completely confounded in one way or another. When Bill raises his head from the pillow after a night of sleep, he sometimes has to ask himself a couple of questions well-known to any man who’s ever picked up a woman in a bar: “Where am I?” and “Who is this person next to me?” Every once in a while, he’ll get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and, not really sure which house he’s in, will bumble around in the dark, clutching at walls, until he finally ends up trying to locate the toilet in a walk-in closet.

When you live in four separate houses, it’s tough to keep track of your stuff. You’ve misplaced your favorite golf shirt? Start looking, buddy, because you’ve got four houses, each ten to fifteen miles apart from the next, to choose from. Many times, Bill has awakened on the morning of an important business meeting to find that he’s missing his dress shoes or a suit jacket and has to race around town like a crazed cabbie to track down the lost article and get to work on time.

This is from Brady Udall’s 1998 Esquire profile of “Bill,” a polygamist. Bill’s not in it for the sex:

Bill doesn’t have sex for fun. He says that he and his wives believe that sex should happen for one reason and one reason only: procreation. It’s written in the Bible–don’t spill your seed unnecessarily; keep it for when you need it. It’s hard to imagine a man in a regular marriage coming right out and admitting to a boring sex life. And women’s cycles being what they are, it is the woman who makes decisions about the goings-on in the marriage bed. “It’s the girls who are in charge of all that,” Bill says. Bill is a man of God.

That’s right. He does it for God. Explanation to be found in the article. Aspiring polygamists beware.

The Hustle

A few weeks back, I decided to submit to 48 Hr. Magazine, which you can read all about here. The theme of the issue was “Hustle,” and my submission was about ticket scalpers:

Scott used to scalp at the Stadium almost exclusively, but he said the cops started cracking down too hard to make it worthwhile. As he tells it, he had 400 tickets a night and would supply other scalpers as his grunts. I told him I scalped a ticket in the grandstand for 30 bucks during the regular season. He told me I did well. I asked if I could have haggled for less.

“See, you kids, you come in and say, ‘I want a seat and I’ll give you 10 bucks for it,’ and I just wanna crack you in the fucking head,” Scott said. “Do you go to your job and work for free? Show some respect.”

You can read other selections here, or if you’re in the mood to support crazy publishing experiments, buy the whole thing here (Full Disclosure: I might get, like, one penny of that 10 bucks). But do so quickly, a TV newsmagazine that I didn’t know was still on the air has issued the magazine a cease and desist order. What a world.

On Board #70

Full details here; full accounts to be sent here.

May 13, 9:42 a.m.
B Train – 7th Avenue to Atlantic Avenue

The best dressed man on this train is reading a Metro New York. He’s in a blue and gold and brown striped suit, with a tan base color and is flanked by two older white men, one in a hoodie, the other in a CNN-embroidered parka. Our man’s straw hat is circled by a brown ribbon that goes with his peaked button down and glossy tie; all of which match his shiny brown pocket square, crimped neckward like a pyramid. His pants are loose but not unkempt. He looks like a 70’s don, but his jewelry – a small stud in his left ear and a jangly gold band covered by his right cuff – are understated. He reaches down as if to dust off his already shined wingtips (lustrous chocolate, of course), but instead picks up a briefcase and plastic Duane Reade bag, and departs at Atlantic. Manhattan might need style, but style does not need it.

This Week’s Best Profile – The Exile

Not a person, but a thing. The Exile, an ex-pat newspaper in Moscow:

What made The Exile so popular, and still makes it so readable, was its high-low mix of acute coverage and character assassination, sermonizing laced with smut—a balance that has also characterized [Matt] Taibbi’s work at Rolling Stone, where he has been a contributing editor for the last five years. “One of the big complaints we heard for years—really violently angry complaints—was: You cannot mix, in one paper, satire and real investigative journalism,” [Mark] Ames says. “And we were like, Why?” Taibbi wrote on subjects ranging from Washington and I.M.F.’s policy in Russia to Moscow prisons, labor strikes, and religious cults. He hung out with crime bosses, cops, and rogue politicians and wrote a series in which he lived the lives of ordinary Russians for days and weeks, working as a bricklayer, a miner, and a vegetable hocker and attending a Moscow high school. He was among the first foreign journalists to speculate openly on the connection between a series of suspicious apartment-building bombings and Putin’s ratcheting up of the Chechen War, now a mainstay of the anti-Putin canon.

James Verni writes about the now-defunct paper, started by Americans Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi, for Vanity Fair. In addition to being popular, they did things like this:

It was [Michael] Wines, then the Times’s Moscow-bureau chief, who, having won The Exile’s coveted Worst Journalist in Russia March Madness contest in 2001, was typing in his office when Ames and Taibbi rushed in unannounced and, by way of congratulations, slammed a pie in his face. The pie was made with fresh vanilla cream, hand-puréed strawberry, and five ounces of horse semen.

It runs on a bit long, but the end is worth the wait for pure shock value. It’s a simultaneously inspiring, horrifying, romantic, depressing story.

This Week’s Best Profile – David Bazan

Here’s a look at the Christian Rock community, and its non-embrace of a star-turned-Judas:

During the two days I follow [David] Bazan and his fans around the Cornerstone campus, though, it becomes clear that he isn’t really misunderstood at all. Everyone knows what he’s singing about—what’s happening is that his listeners are taking great pains to sidestep the obvious. “Well, his songs have always been controversial,” one says, but when asked to pinpoint the source of the controversy suggests it’s because he swears—nothing about not believing in hell or not taking the Bible as God’s word. Bazan’s agnosticism is the elephant in the merch tent.

The full article, from the Chicago Reader, is here.

This Week’s Best Profile – John McPhee

No, it’s not a profile of McPhee. Or even by him. We’re cheating today, but it’s a worthwhile skirting of protocol. This comes from an excerpt of a Paris Review interview with McPhee. Here’s how to get started:

First thing I do is transcribe my notes. This is not an altogether mindless process. You’re copying your notes, and you get ideas. You get ideas for structure. You get ideas for wording, phraseologies. As I’m typing, if something crosses my mind I flip it in there. When I’m done, certain ideas have accrued and have been added to it, like iron filings drawn to a magnet.

And so now you’ve got piles of stuff on the table, unlike a fiction writer. A fiction writer doesn’t have this at all. A fiction writer is feeling her way, feeling her way—it’s much more of a trial-and-error, exploratory thing. With nonfiction, you’ve got your material, and what you’re trying to do is tell it as a story in a way that doesn’t violate fact, but at the same time is structured and presented in a way that makes it interesting to read.

I always say to my classes that it’s analogous to cooking a dinner. You go to the store and you buy a lot of things. You bring them home and you put them on the kitchen counter, and that’s what you’re going to make your dinner out of. If you’ve got a red pepper over here—it’s not a tomato. You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. You don’t have an ideal collection of material every time out.

The full excerpt is here. Buy the damn magazine for the whole thing.


McSweeney’s Panorama, Reviewed, Finally

Four months after I got McSweeney’s Panaroma in the mail, I’ve finally looked through it all. At the time of its release, there was a heap of hype among newspaper folks. I was struck by how the relative silence about the issue after it actually came out.

Here’s the explanation: it was kind of bad. Many of the articles felt unedited and overly long. The “beautiful” graphics were often overwrought, without any apparent concern for readability. The pages were huge, so huge that I found every possible reading position – at table, with cereal; seated on couch; laying down on couch; standing; spread out on floor; in bed – to be completely untenable.

There were highlights. George Saunders’ short story about the life of a fox was worth the cover price alone, and an exploration of the Mr. Romance Cover Model Competition. It’s telling that both of those articles were found in the several magazines that came with the paper.

It’s also telling that Eggers and Co. seemed to be desperate to apologize for what was inside the newspaper:

“This should not be taken as our definitive statement on what every page of a newspaper should look like. Rather, it’s a grab-bag of some of hte myriad things newsprint can do. And indeed there was much we did, and there was much we didn’t do.”

I came away from Eggers’ experiment feeling even less confident in the future of newspapers. If a team of creatives, given a fully year to produce one Sunday newspaper produce something that is more difficult to navigate, read, hold, then, well, perhaps the newspaper has reached an apex of usability and usefulness. Here’s to hoping that’s good enough for a while!