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: (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: (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 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.

The roots of the subprime mortgage crisis, and everything that followed. From a David Foster Wallace article

One reads David Foster Wallace‘s long-form journalism collected in Consider the Lobster slowly and with care, knowing there won’t be any more of his pieces for Harper’s, The New York Observer, Premiere and so on. (Incidentally, Gourmet, the magazine that commissioned the title story, has recently ceased to exist, too.) One of these pieces, appearing in this collection in its full uncut glory, got a brief revival in the 2008 elections: it is “Up, Simba”, where DFW got to cover on behalf of Rolling Stone none other than John McCain on the campaign trail in the 2000 Republican primary, which McCain lost to George W. Bush after a non-inconsiderable amount of “negative advertising”.

“Host”, the piece that closes the collection, profiles for the Atlantic Monthly a conservative radio talk show host named John Ziegler working at KFI in Los Angeles, and it is insightful and probing and sad. I just wanted to notice one little thing, and point it out to you. When the host is off the air, the writer’s ear does not tune out to the mindless chatter of the advertising segments. The writer keeps listening. And (this is 2004) he observes that there is quite a bit more of a certain type of radio advertising than there used to be.

As of spring ’04, though, the most frequent and concussive spots on KFI are for mortgage and home-refi companies. In just a few slumped, glazed hours of listening, a member of this station’s audience can hear both canned and live-read ads for Green Light Financial, HMS Capital, Home Field Financial, Benchmark Lending. Over and over. Pacific Home Financial, Lenox National Lending, U.S. Mortgage Capital, Crestline Funding, Home Savings Mortgage, Advantix Lending, Reverse mortgages, negative amortization, adjustable rates, APR, FICO… where did all these firms come from? What were these guys doing five years ago? Why is KFI’s audience seen as so especially ripe and ready for refi?,, Union Bank of California,, on and on and on.

I don’t want to attribute any prescience to DFW’s words. While he might be read as implying that nothing good would come of it, this may very well be just our interpretation as readers in 2010, with the privilege of what we know today. As a writer, he merely observed and reported. May we observe the world around us with the same open-mindedness and insight.

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

Top 7 signs you no longer work at a high-tech company

  1. The demographics of the place more closely reflect the outside world. You feel young again. Unfortunately, it is advisable to adopt a more conservative dress code.
  2. There is no WiFi in the building.
  3. You are issued a Blackberry in an older version than the one you had before.
  4. You are issued a large and sturdy laptop that is heavier than the one you had before. I mean, a couple of pounds heavier. That’s a lot heavier, for something you want to take home at the end of the day.
  5. Your laptop carries an operating system and applications in the local language, and there is no way to get them in English. You have to relearn most of your keyboard shortcuts. CTRL+p? forget about it, now it’s CTRL+SHIFT+F12. CTRL+s? it’s become SHIFT+F12. CTRL+f? start getting used to CTRL+SHIFT+t. CTRL+a? You still haven’t figured out where that one has gone. You fear serious losses in your productivity.
  6. They don’t use Skype. In fact, Skype is blocked. They don’t use any other instant messaging application, actually. When they need to chat, they write emails back and forth to each other. You fear even more serious losses in your productivity. You ask for an exception to the Skype block.
  7. Every morning, a thick bundle of newspapers is delivered to your desk. Some Web-only dailies are printed out and delivered to your desk. Little by little, one piece at a time, you start trying to stop the madness.
  8. [Bonus] You wrap up a meeting with a colleague. You say “OK, I’ll send you a list of those items in a spreadsheet or something.” He says “That’s OK. As long as you don’t send me an Excel. I don’t do Excel.”