The joys of editing

You’ve got to love the editors at The Economist. Merry Christmas!

No one can know for certain what future investment returns will be. If the writers at The Economist were sure of the answer, they would be lounging about on their luxury yachts instead of sweating over split infinitives.

The Illusionists: Help fund it on Kickstarter

A few weeks ago, I had drinks with a young filmmaker I had started following on Twitter months ago. Her name is Elena Rossini and she lives in Paris. We talked extensively about her feature-length documentary project, The Illusionists. I’ll let her explain it in her own words:

As you may know, in late June I’ve launched an ambitious fundraising campaign for my feature-length documentary The Illusionists, which I wrote and I am co-producing and directing.

Here is the synopsis of the film:

THE ILLUSIONISTS is a feature-length documentary about the commodification of the body and the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world. The film will explore the influence that corporations have on our perceptions of ourselves, showing how mass media, advertising, and several industries manipulate people’s insecurities about their bodies for profit.

The Illusionists’ Kickstarter page has a video teaser and a longer explanation of the project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1085595579/the-illusionists-documentary-insecurity-sells (its themes, style, and my motivations for making the film).

There are amazing experts already lined up for the interviews, including author & filmmaker Jean Kilbourne (best known for her iconic film series “Killing Us Softly”), psychotherapist Susie Orbach (best known for her books “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and “Bodies”) and Jenn Pozner (author of “Reality Bites Back”; she was recently featured in the New Yorker and on NPR). I’m also hoping to interview Umberto Eco, Gloria Steinem, Oliviero Toscani and Maurice Levy of Publicis, amongst others. 

Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends, friends-of-friends, Twitter and Facebook followers, the fundraising campaign has already achieved some amazing milestones. 12 days in, I’ve reached 43% of the total funding goal, with over 110 backers and more than 1,100 Facebook “likes” of my Kickstarter page. In short, I’m on cloud nine. But the road ahead is still long… if I don’t reach 100% of the funding goal by August 5th, I will lose all the pledges made so far.

On Kickstarter, I am offering “regular people” pre-sales of the film and various other gifts as rewards for donations:http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1085595579/the-illusionists-documentary-insecurity-sells (the column on the right). I’m also developing a special package for sponsors whose mission is aligned with the message of the film that would offer exposure on the site, in all press material, and in the end credits of the film.

If this is something that resonates with you, go to Kickstarter.com and fund it. I just did.

International Journalism Festival 2011. Organization notes

The International Journalism Festival is one of my favorite events in Italy, so much so that this year I’m skipping the Milan Design Week in order to be in Perugia.
The Festival is wonderfully organized (by Arianna and Chris), it attracts a wide range of truly international speakers, and downtown Perugia is a fantastic stage.

Still, the Festival can and should be improved. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Panelist should prepare. Panels should be a dialogue among panelists, not a sequence of monologues. In order for this to happen, panelists should be strongly encouraged to get together and coordinate beforehand. A good example is the SXSW Speaker Agreement, a pledge that all speakers have to sign before they show up at the event.
  2. No whining. More than once, speakers have spent too much time discussing what’s wrong, and not enough time proposing how to fix it. (Same comment, loud and clear, from Micah Sifry, quoted here and here). We all know the problems: it’s a constructive event if we talk about solutions.
  3. Questions should be questions, ideally offered in less than 30 seconds. Too often, someone from the audience grabs the microphone and starts offering way too much information on their entire biography, their views of the world, and the issue they want to call attention to. It is perfectly appropriate for moderators to interrupt kindly but firmly and say “What is your question, please?”

I hope to come back to a new and improved Festival next year. It takes a little extra effort, but it’s worth it.

Praia e vento

“Praia e vento”, beach and wind, says this flag-decorated surfboard, instead of “Ordem e progresso”.

I just thought it was another brilliant iconographic choice by this week’s Economist, even better than the cover image with the rocket-fueled Cristo Redentor.

By the way, here‘s where you can buy this picture and others with the same model and surfboard!

Economist special report on Brazil

Fact-checking isn’t what it used to be: Emperor Hadrian’s architecture

This week’s print edition of the Economist left the printing presses with an astonishing typo: Emperor Hadrian “commissioned the Parthenon”. In the online edition of the article, mercifully, “Parthenon” has been corrected into “Pantheon”.

Journalism is a tough job, of course, and corrections are sometimes needed: but this is the biggest blunder I’ve seen in print in a long time. (Photo credit: Thomas Schlijper)

Kindle = iPod: incredibly dumb notion of the week

Jeff Bezos is a visionary and, who knows, one day I might be tempted to get myself a Kindle (assuming future versions run on something different than Sprint’s EVDO network). Yet, what I have found to be noteworthy this week is not the device itself, but the hype calling the Kindle “the iPod for books” (here are headlines from Newsweek and Business Week).

It requires the thinking person just about thirty seconds’ effort to come up with at least four reasons to dispel this superficial and downright weird notion.

  1. When I bought my first iPod, I spent a weekend or two loading the hundreds of CDs I had bought and loved in my previous life as a music listener. Then, I sold many of the CDs on eBay. When I buy my first Kindle, I will have no way to load onto the device the paper jungle that threatens to take over my home. I suppose I could search for digital versions of the books I loved best, but (as correctly noted by Peter Kafka writing in the Silicon Alley Insider) there is just no way that the Kindle can suck up all my books the way the iPod did with my CDs.
  2. Does it matter, anyway? What people do with their music is listen to the same music they know and love over and over again. (To get some variety, I have always opted for the iPod with the fattest memory around, and never owned a Nano or Shuffle, because I would otherwise hardly listen to anything else than the collected works of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, I’m afraid). What people do with reading, unless they have a serious obsession with one particular piece of work, is move on to new book after book after book. I am occasionally tempted to go back to rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but I guess what I will do next is to move on to Taleb’s The Black Swan.
  3. The iPod changed the way we listen to music by giving our lives a soundtrack in shuffle mode. I don’t think I will ever read snippets of books in shuffle mode – call me a traditionalist, but I’m still a fan of linear narratives and long-form essays with their arguments neatly laid out in the correct order.
  4. The most attractive capability of the Kindle, in my opinion, is the ability to search the full text of the books in its memory. So, for example, if I wanted to compare the recurrence of the word “whale” in the Bible, Moby Dick and Pinocchio I could run a quick stat on the Kindle. This makes for an interesting party game (although serious literature and language scholars are better served in their research by more industrial-strength databases and tools). That’s not something that has really occurred to me with the songs on my iPod. It might be an idea for Apple to get the thing to load full lyrics texts together with the music, but it would hardly be a game-changer.

I’m sure you can find more, but, when people tell you that “the Kindle is the iPod for books”, these are just a few of the reasons why you would be well justified in saying that that’s an incredibly dumb notion.