• Losing Female Reporters

    It is a truth increasingly acknowledged that many men are paid more than their female counterparts. How much more?

    About 50 percent, in the BBC journalist Carrie Gracie’s case. Over the weekend, Ms. Gracie quit as the broadcaster’s China editor and announced she was returning to London. “Enough is enough,” she wrote, in an astringent open letter, describing how she discovered last year that the BBC paid two of its four international editors — men, of course — 50 percent more than the female editors.

    At least she knows. Ms. Gracie discovered this gross inequality only because in 2017 the British government forced the BBC, which it partly funds, to disclose salaries of top on-air talent. The figures showed a gender and ethnic pay gap, with male anchors making in some cases twice as much as their female co-anchors.

    It says something when it’s considered an advancement for women just to get to the bargaining table and ask for equal pay. Many of us never even get that far.

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  • The quitting economy

    In the early 1990s, career advice in the United States changed. A new social philosophy, neoliberalism, was transforming society, including the nature of employment, and career counsellors and business writers had to respond. The Soviet Union had recently collapsed, and much as communist thinkers had tried to apply Marxist ideas to every aspect of life, triumphant US economic intellectuals raced to implement the ultra-individualist ideals of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and other members of the Mont Pelerin Society, far and wide. In doing so for work, they developed a metaphor – that every person should think of herself as a business, the CEO of Me, Inc. The metaphor took off, and has had profound implications for how workplaces are run, how people understand their jobs, and how they plan careers, which increasingly revolve around quitting.

    Hayek (1899­-1992) was an influential Austrian economist who operated from the core conviction that markets provided the best means to order the world. Today, many people share this conviction, and that is in part because of the influence of Hayek and his cohort. At the time that Hayek and his circle began making their arguments, it was an eccentric and minority position. For Hayek and the Mount Pelerin group, the centralised economic planning that characterised both communism and fascism was a recipe for disaster. Hayek held that humans are too flawed to successfully undertake the planning of a complex modern economy. A single human being, or even group of human beings, could never competently handle the informational complexities of modern economic systems. Given humans’ limitations in the face of modern economic complexity, freeing the market to organise large-scale production and distribution was the best possible course.

    Hayek understood that markets do not emerge naturally, that traders, consumers and laws construct markets. Once established, markets have tendencies towards monopoly and other business practices that could undercut forming an even playing field. So markets can’t be entirely left to self-regulate; laws and governments are necessary. Indeed, this is the primary reason why governments should exist – to ensure that markets function well. Governments should not be providing services to its citizenry such as public transportation or a postal service – Hayek believed that private interests most efficiently manage these services. Also governments should not be providing forms of welfare to its citizens, since welfare undercuts how the market allocates value and introduces too much centralised planning. Instead, what governments should focus upon is organising markets well, keeping them functioning to promote competition, and thus also promoting innovation. Because market competition is the goal, arbitrarily curtailing this competition through tariffs or other nationalist strategies for undercutting a global market was also deeply undesirable. Hayek wanted a global market.

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  • The Desirability of Storytellers

    Once upon a time, the sun and moon argued about who would light up the sky. They fought, as anthropomorphic celestial bodies are meant to do, but after the moon proves to be as strong as the sun, they decide to take shifts. The sun would brighten the day, while the moon would illuminate the night.

    This is one of several stories told by the Agta, a group of hunter-gatherers from the Philippines. They spend a lot of time spinning yarns to each other, and like their account of the sun and moon, many of these tales are infused with themes of cooperation and equality. That’s no coincidence, says Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London.

    Storytelling is a universal human trait. It emerges spontaneously in childhood, and exists in all cultures thus far studied. It’s also ancient: Some specific stories have roots that stretch back for around 6,000 years. As I’ve written before, these tales aren’t quite as old as time, but perhaps as old as wheels and writing. Because of its antiquity and ubiquity, some scholars have portrayed storytelling as an important human adaptation—and that’s certainly how Migliano sees it. Among the Agta, her team found evidence that stories—and the very act of storytelling—arose partly as a way of cementing social bonds, and instilling an ethic of cooperation.

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  • Will Steacy – Blood and Ink

    On a warm Friday evening in the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer, national/foreign editor Tom Steacy was asked to leave his desk. He was led to a conference room, where he found the paper’s executive editor waiting.

    “The realisation began to dawn as I made that walk,” the 66-year-old says in a slow, halting voice from his home in Philadelphia. “Everyone was nervous. We all knew there was a great shining axe hovering in the sky somewhere. There had been for quite a while.”

    The editor, Stan Wischnowski, told Steacy that after 29 years on staff the paper was letting him go. “I kept shouting to myself: ‘Silence, silence. Gosh, please don’t let me hear what I’m about to hear,’” Steacy says. “Stan gave me his 10-minute spiel about why it was necessary and why I had been chosen. Then I made him repeat the whole thing. I was in so much shock. When it was over, I left the building and went home,” he continues. “I went back to the newsroom once to sign papers – that newsroom was my life for 30 years.”

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  • The decimation of local news in NYC

    A month ago, I surprised a lot of people by announcing that I was making an unusual career move: After a lifetime in the journalistic trenches—including as a consistent writer for three publications that had scaled back or killed their print editions or both—I was running for a State Senate seat in the Brooklyn district where I grew up.

    I launched the campaign for a variety of reasons, many of them having to do with my own frustrations with the political class. I’m not writing and reporting like I used to, but I’m trying to hold bad actors accountable in a new way. I don’t know if, 30 years ago, a more robust news landscape would’ve kept me firmly in the reporter camp, but I do know it can be a disillusioning time to be a reporter, particularly in local news and especially in New York City.

    On Thursday, the latest gut punch arrived: DNAInfo, which for a time had served up admirable granular coverage of New York and other cities, was shut down by its billionaire owner, who blamed the bad economics of local news for the decision, though DNAInfo reporters are convinced a recent, successful union drive at the outlet was the real culprit.

    The frightening decline of the newspaper industry has hit all cities and towns hard. No one has been spared. Digital advertising cannot make up for what print once paid for. Google and Facebook gobble up what little ad revenue exists in the digital space. In the past 15 years, more than half the jobs in the news industry have disappeared, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in April. In January 2001, the industry employed 411,800 people. In September 2016, that number plummeted to 173,709.

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  • How BBC started its radio station in Arabic

    On January 3, 1938, the BBC’s first ever foreign language radio station – BBC Arabic – made its inaugural broadcast. The station was launched in almost direct response to Radio Bari, the Arabic language radio station of the Italian government that had been broadcast to the Arab world since 1934. Radio Bari’s broadcasts consisted of a mixture of popular Arabic music, cultural propaganda intended to encourage pro-fascist sentiment in the Arab world and news bulletins with a strongly anti-British slant. British officials had initially been largely unperturbed by Italy’s efforts, but from 1935 onwards, as Radio Bari’s output became more overtly anti-British and specifically attacked British policy in Palestine, they became concerned and began to discuss how Britain ought to respond.

    It was soon decided that Britain needed to establish its own Arabic radio station in order to counter Italy’s broadcasts. As the Secretary of State for the Colonies remarked in August 1937, “the time has come when it is essential to ensure the full and forcible presentation of the British view of events in a region of such vital Imperial importance”. Detailed discussions began over what form the station should take. In addition to logistical issues concerning content and where it should be based, British officials were concerned as to what type of Arabic should be used in its broadcasts. There was a keen awareness that in order for the proposed broadcasts to be both widely understood and taken seriously, making the appropriate choice linguistically was crucial. The Cabinet Committee that was formed to discuss the issue reported that the Arabic used in Radio Bari’s broadcasts in the past – speculated to be that of a cleric of Libyan origin – had been “open to criticism as being pedantic and classical in style and…excited the ridicule of listeners”. The potential for ridicule, in addition to the fact that many uneducated Arabs would struggle to understand it, made classical Arabic an undesirable choice. Yet given the significant variation in regional dialects that exists throughout the Arab world, the choice of a single dialect was equally problematic. British officials in the region possessed strong and sometimes divergent opinions about what course of action should be taken.

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  • Who put the ‘free’ in freelance?

    Freelance journalists voluntarily chose to endure innumerable difficulties and risks in their career, but debilitating penury should not be one of them. The financial reality for freelancers has become so bad that many are now practicing what I call “subsistence journalism”. Low pay and poor working conditions mean they have to make constant compromises in their personal lives in order to continue pursuing their profession. They live in shared houses in war-zones to keep costs down, and share fixers, translators, and taxis. Often there is no actual home to go to, with prized possessions stored in their parents’ house or a friend’s attic. Some even eschew relationships or children because the choice between subsistence journalism and familial financial commitments is so stark.

    And yet, freelance journalism makes up more and more of the news we consume, even as the number of staff positions continues to shrink. How have we gotten ourselves into this mess? Despite the freelancer’s propensity to place all the blame at the feet of editors and news outlets, I think we have to take our share of responsibility.

    The truth is, many freelance journalists are just not very good at freelancing. I realize this is not going to be a popular thing to say, and I may be dismissed by some as disputatious and cantankerous, but it needs to be discussed. The reason, I believe, that so many freelance journalists struggle in their career is simple: they focus too much on the ‘journalist’ part of their job title, and not enough on the ‘freelance’ bit.

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  • Journalism as Noir Entertainment

    “Dirty John,” a suspenseful and psychologically intense true-crime series released in its entirety last week, is the first podcast by the veteran newspaper journalist Christopher Goffard. It’s a new kind of hybrid: a podcast-and-print collaboration, between Wondery and the Los Angeles Times. It was released chapter by chapter over the week, beginning one Sunday and concluding the next, in the style of an investigative print series. It’s garnered some five million listens and has been the No. 1 podcast on iTunes for much of the past two weeks. Its aesthetic is a kind of journalism noir, blending entertainment and news in powerful, sometimes unnerving ways.

    The podcast begins with an autopsy report: an Orange County assistant district attorney reading a description of stab wounds from a homicide in the summer of 2016. We don’t learn the identity of the victim or the assailant. Then we go back two years, to 2014, to the story of a successful Newport Beach interior designer, Debra Newell, who is fifty-nine and divorced; John Meehan, a handsome, seemingly perfect man she meets online; and Debra’s grown children, who mistrust him. In the print series, “Dirty John” is stylishly designed, with large photographs of its subjects and expensive real estate; it features pull quotes such as “The most devious, dangerous, deceptive person I ever met,” styled like tabloid headlines, in maroon capital letters. The podcast’s logo is a red rose and a latex-gloved hand holding a hypodermic needle on a black background, like a horror-movie poster, or a “Flowers in the Attic” cover. The theme music, one of the show’s strongest aesthetic choices, is a gorgeously fiddle-heavy song called “Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend,” by Tracy Bonham. Goffard liked the song because it “allowed us to transcend the setting and suggest some of the more universal themes at play,” he told me. “The image in my mind was like a creature from a fairy tale, or like a shape-shifting goblin from a swamp, who was invading this Southern California family and devouring the matriarch—and they have to take their stand against it.”

    Goffard is a fan of podcasts—he likes “This American Life,” “Invisibilia,” and “S-Town”—but what influenced “Dirty John” more than any of them, he told me, was “the old-time radio drama that I used to listen to as a kid.” Growing up, he’d get tapes in the mail or at science-fiction conventions: “Escape,” “Suspense,” “Quiet Please,” “Lights Out,” Orson Welles’s “The Shadow,” “The Lives of Harry Lime.” He told me about an episode of “Escape” that he loved called “Leiningen Versus the Ants.” “If you want twenty terrifying minutes, I’ll send you a link,” he said. I laughed—in these troubled times, ants seemed like a quaint, benign foe—and Goffard was patient, trying to make me understand. “Oh, this is about man-eating ants,” he said.

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  • Politicians Are Bad at Podcasting

    These days, it seems that everybody’s got a podcast, even members of Congress.

    Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin debuted their own podcasts this month, joining audio series begun earlier this year from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago.

    The concept is a no-brainer: satisfy Americans’ seemingly insatiable thirst for political analysis from ready-made political stars with inside perspectives. And from the elected officials’ perspective, the appeal is obvious. They can sidestep media gatekeepers and beam their personalities and priorities straight to their constituents’ ears, all while heightening their national brands, perhaps in anticipation of seeking higher office. It’s less clear what the constituents get out of the deal.

    On their podcasts, our representatives are doing something almost journalistic: They’re moderating discussions with other political figures, interviewing experts on North Korea or monopoly power and staging interactions with the public. Except there are no actual journalists around to ask any pesky questions. At least on TV interview shows or at news conferences, reporters challenge the politician’s narrative. Even on Twitter, we can tweet back.

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  • Murdered journalist’s son attacks ‘crooks’

    The son of the murdered Maltese investigative journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia has described finding parts of his mother’s body around the blazing car in which she died and attacked the island as a “mafia state” run by “crooks”.

    “My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” Matthew Caruana Galizia, who is also an investigative reporter, wrote in a moving and at times graphic Facebook post.

    “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”

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  • ‘Kim Wall was born to tell stories’

    She was excited and scared, as always, but this time more excited. Beijing was “like New York in the 1980s”, as she used to put it – cheap, buzzing and ready for change. “People are actually doing things, not just talking about doing them.”

    Kim had been testing the waters, spending the last year and a half living in China for a couple of months at a time. She wanted to make sure she could make ends meet working freelance, with some odd policy analysis reporting to pay the extras.

    As always, she was bubbling with ideas. She wanted to write a feature on Mao impersonators, and another on the social repercussions of the one-child policy. She wanted to show a different China to western readers, but wasn’t sure the time had come for a woman to take that role.

    That day last June, we went to a Soho bookstore. She started reading through tomes about the history of China while I sneaked downstairs to get her a copy of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s one of my favorite books, and I wanted her to have a copy to always remember why she had to keep writing, despite the difficulties.

    The collection of essays talks about a “poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world”. In my head, Calvino’s auspicious image for the next millennium had blonde-reddish hair, and looked a bit like Kim.

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  • Censorship and the Jordanian Reader

    Although all books are still subject to the regulatory track illustrated above, the trends, hegemony, and forms of censorship have changed in the past four years. According to the executive director of the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, Maher Kayyali, the Department of Press and Publication has reconsidered the ban of a large number of books in 2011, and has permitted some of the banned books. In addition, the option of re-exporting banned books was not available before then, as the Department used to confiscate and destroy all copies.

    The Head of the Department of Foreign Publications in the Proceedings Directorate of the Department of Press and Publications, Firas Abbadi, attributed that to what he called “raising the ceiling of freedom” within the department.

    He also added that there are banned books available in the market. “We do not emphasize censorship. There are no inspections. We ban books, but these are directives from beyond the Department [of Press and Publications]. The government does not want to interfere with people or stores.”

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  • Rolling Stone Will Be Put Up for Sale

    From a loft in San Francisco in 1967, a 21-year-old named Jann S. Wenner started a magazine that would become the counterculture bible for baby boomers. Rolling Stone defined cool, cultivated literary icons and produced star-making covers that were such coveted real estate they inspired a song.

    But the headwinds buffeting the publishing industry, and some costly strategic missteps, have steadily taken a financial toll on Rolling Stone, and a botched story three years ago about an unproven gang rape at the University of Virginia badly bruised the magazine’s journalistic reputation.

    And so, after a half-century reign that propelled him into the realm of the rock stars and celebrities who graced his covers, Mr. Wenner is putting his company’s controlling stake in Rolling Stone up for sale, relinquishing his hold on a publication he has led since its founding.

    Mr. Wenner had long tried to remain an independent publisher in a business favoring size and breadth. But he acknowledged in an interview last week that the magazine he had nurtured would face a difficult, uncertain future on its own.

    “I love my job, I enjoy it, I’ve enjoyed it for a long time,” said Mr. Wenner, 71. But letting go, he added, was “just the smart thing to do.”

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  • The Newseum in deep trouble

    “Make no little plans,” wrote the visionary architect Daniel Burnham. “They have no power to stir men’s blood.”

    Inspiring words, yes, but sometimes one can get carried away.

    There are few better examples than the Newseum, the iconic edifice that opened its Pennsylvania Avenue NW doors in 2008 and has been awash in red ink ever since.

    On Monday, its chief executive, Jeffrey Herbst, stepped down and the museum’s parent, the Freedom Foundation, acknowledged publicly what insiders have known for a long time:

    The Newseum is in big financial trouble. It may have to sell its building — still shiny and new. And, though no one is saying it publicly, it may end up going under altogether.

    The signs weren’t good from its overblown start. The building is seven stories tall with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, 15 theaters and an adjoining multistory Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

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  • Village Voice Lays Off 13 Union Employees

    Just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, employees at The Village Voice in Manhattan received an email from co-workers saying that the weekly newspaper appeared to be on the verge of announcing layoffs.

    Within a few hours about a dozen employees were summoned into a conference room inside The Voice office in the Financial District and told that they would no longer have jobs after the third week of September, a union representative said, when the paper’s final print edition will be distributed.

    Thirteen of the paper’s 17 union workers are being laid off, said the president of the local that has represented Voice workers since 1977, when Rupert Murdoch bought the paper. According to the union, they include a writer, a social media producer, an administrative assistant and a photo editor who has worked for decades at the left-leaning newspaper, which was started in 1955 by Norman Mailer and others then went on to provide a blueprint for a scrappy, muckraking journalistic format that became known as the alt-weekly.

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  • An app for Journalists: Flyr

    What is it? An app for making animated stories with images, video and text, that can then be shared on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook.

    Cost: Free, with an upgrade to Pro available for $9.99 (£7.80)/ month

    Devices: iOS (Android version in progress)

    How is it of use to journalists? News outlets have been using the ‘stories’ feature on Instagram and Snapchat to give their audiences a behind-the-scenes look at their newsrooms, to cover events, or to take the pulse around an issue. Stories can also sometimes be tweaked and repurposed according to the strengths of the platform – while Snapchat is more recognised for its unfiltered content, Instagram is more well-known for its carefully crafted visuals. Flyr enables journalists to create animated stories for these platforms, either from scratch or by tailoring its selection of pre-made templates.

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  • Unlearning the myth of American innocence

    My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

    When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

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  • When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism

    Chris Hughes was a mythical savior—boyishly innocent, fantastically rich, intellectually curious, unexpectedly humble, and proudly idealistic.

    My entire career at the New Republic had been spent dreaming of such a benefactor. For years, my colleagues and I had sputtered our way through the internet era, drifting from one ownership group to the next, each eager to save the magazine and its historic mission as the intellectual organ for hard-nosed liberalism. But these investors either lacked the resources to invest in our future or didn’t have quite enough faith to fully commit. The unending search for patronage exhausted me, and in 2010, I resigned as editor.

    Then, in 2012, Chris walked through the door. Chris wasn’t just a savior; he was a face of the zeitgeist. At Harvard, he had roomed with Mark Zuckerberg, and he had gone on to become one of the co-founders of Facebook. Chris gave our fusty old magazine a Millennial imprimatur, a bigger budget, and an insider’s knowledge of social media. We felt as if we carried the hopes of journalism, which was yearning for a dignified solution to all that ailed it. The effort was so grand as to be intoxicating. We blithely dismissed anyone who warned of how our little experiment might collapse onto itself—how instead of providing a model of a technologist rescuing journalism, we could become an object lesson in the dangers of journalism’s ever greater reliance on Silicon Valley.

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  • Journalism faces a crisis worldwide

    Australia’s two largest legacy media organisations recently announced big cuts to their journalistic staff. Many editorial positions, perhaps up to 120, will disappear at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and News Corporation announced the sacking of most of its photographers and editorial production staff.

    Both announcements were accompanied by corporate spin voicing a continuing commitment to quality journalism. Nobody in the know believes it. This is the latest local lurch in a crisis that is engulfing journalism worldwide.

    Now, partly thanks to Donald Trump, many more people are turning their mind to the future of news, including “fake” news and its opposite.

    How, in the future, are we to know the difference between truth, myth and lies?

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  • In exile, Dündar awaits Turkey’s referendum

    One morning last May, Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, was standing outside an Istanbul courthouse, waiting for a judge to reach a verdict on his guilt or innocence, when a man rushed toward him with a gun. A year earlier, Dündar’s newspaper, Cumhuriyet, a daily favored by Turkey’s secular left, had published video footage of truckloads of weapons being smuggled to Syrian rebels by Turkish state intelligence agents. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government had denied that it was supplying the rebels, was outraged and vowed that Dündar, then editor-in-chief, would “pay a heavy price.” Dündar was arrested and charged with aiding a terrorist organization and with espionage, among other crimes. “Traitor!” the gunman shouted as he fired two shots in Dündar’s direction. Dündar’s wife, Dilek, along with a member of parliament, grabbed the gunman, and video of the scene shows the three in an odd, lumbering half-embrace until the man is ordered to drop his gun. After the shooting, Dündar looked a bit ruffled but was uncannily composed. “I am fine. I am fine,” he told reporters. “Nobody should worry. Please be calm. There is nothing wrong. My wife jumped on him. So I want to congratulate her.” Glancing at Dilek, he smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.”

    When the court reconvened, a short time later, one of the judges apologized to Dündar for the shooting and then sentenced him to five years and ten months in prison for revealing state secrets. Dündar appealed the conviction and, free, pending the outcome, left for Barcelona to work on a book. At that point, Dündar was hopeful that he could get a fair trial in Turkey and intended to return. But, last July, his plans changed. President Erdoğan declared a state of emergency in response to an attempted coup, leading to a crackdown on ostensible opponents: he eventually fired more than a hundred thousand public workers, jailed opposition politicians and journalists, and arrested judges, two of whom sat on the constitutional court. Convinced of the utter impossibility of a fair trial, Dündar took up an offer to come to Germany to write a column for the German newspaper Die Zeit. He arrived in Berlin with little more than a suitcase full of summer clothes.

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  • Macedonia’s fake news factory

    “Made in Tito’s Veles” is the trademark you may find if you turn over a dainty porcelain dish in any ex-Yugoslav country. Emblazoned alongside the initials of Yugoslavia’s chief economic planner, this was a trademark that proudly belonged to the golden era of Yugoslavia’s rapid industrialisation. It was a hallmark of reputable, tangible goods, the genuine article. Now known simply as Veles, the city that was once an industrial hub in the heart of the Republic of Macedonia recently became infamous for manufacturing a very different and pernicious product for export: the “fake news” stories being peddled by some of its digitally literate teenage population.

    While older residents nostalgically recount the days when they were proud to see Ivanka (Mrs Tito) wearing silk spun in their factories, their tech-savvy grandchildren achieved a sudden notoriety last autumn, having capitalised on the lucrative media storm surrounding Donald Trump. In turn, the brief flurry of media coverage on unrepentant “adolescent kingpins” assaulting Western politics with their burgeoning empires of misinformation propagated its own distorted representations of an unfamiliar city and its inhabitants. By spotlighting the experience of disenchanted teenage boys, the media cast the whole city in the unflattering light of conventional eastern European stereotypes. Veles became a quintessentially bleak, impoverished vacuum out on the “Balkan hinterlands”, begetting amoral profiteering. Such images ignore the multifaceted reality and belong to a long tradition of Westerners seeking out what historian Larry Wolff called the “half-barbarian” at the “unpolished extremity” of the continent.

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  • Vietnam war’s lost marines

    Tap, tap tap. Scott Standfast knocked on the door again. He’d been at it for several minutes, standing in front of a one-story brick house in Niceville, Florida, on a warm, dry day in November 2015. The then-59-year-old former Marine and his wife had driven more than 11 hours to get here, hoping to answer a question that’s haunted him for 40 years. He knocked again. This time, harder. Boom, boom, boom! Still no answer.

    About four decades ago, Standfast fought in the last battle of the Vietnam War, and his memory of it is sharp—from the location of enemy positions to the smothering jungle foliage. But it’s not what he remembers that troubles him; it’s what he can’t recall about that traumatic day. He’s tried everything. In 2015, he even joined a group of veterans for a trip back to the battlefield where they met their former enemies. Some shook hands, trying to forgive and move on. The experience helped but not enough. “It’s blocked out,” he tells me on the phone, choking up. “I’m sorry.”

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  • Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

    In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

    Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

    As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

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  • Radio-Free Syria

    The overhead light in the blue Mazda 626 wasn’t working. Raed Fares, a Syrian activist whose video protests skewer ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad alike, reached up to fiddle with the light bulb before squeezing himself out of the driver’s side door. The street was in darkness. In the last few years, the Assad government cut most of the electricity (along with running water and mobile-phone service) to Kafranbel, the town in northwestern Syria where Fares lives. The only light came from an LED strip in his neighbor’s front doorway that was hooked up to a car battery. It was 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2014, and Fares, who often works until 4 a.m., had left the office early. As he fumbled to fit his key into the car’s lock, he heard the slap-slap of feed running toward him.

    Here they come, he thought.

    The feet stopped just in front of his car. The Czech pistol he usually carries was in his house, 15 feet away. In the watery glow of the light behind him, Fares could make out two ISIS soldiers. One, clad in a woolen mask, ammunition vest, windbreaker and unlaced boots, opened fire, spraying the car, the mud wall and Fares with bullets. Fares felt their heat seat through his canvas jacket and jean skirt and into the right side of his chest and shoulder. When he collapsed to the ground, a childhood nightmare returned: three black dogs, chasing him.

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  • Beyond Homelessness

    The Chronicle has joined with more than 80 other news organizations to focus attention on the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in the Bay Area. As part of the SF Homeless Project, The Chronicle’s Beyond Homelessness series explores possible solutions that might ease, if not end, the suffering of thousands of people living on our streets, and improve the quality of life for all residents. To date, the SF Homeless Project has been emulated in several U.S. cities where homelessness remains a humanitarian crisis.

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