From the archives: Impact Show 307

In this video from the TV show Impact from July 18, 2012, Proctors CEO Philip Morris turns the tables on the Times Union A&E editor by interviewing him.

Fun story, bad science journalism

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I recommend reading this story, but I don’t recommend believing it.

Here’s why:

You can tell from the headline that it will be fun, and the writer gets to play with using multiple fonts and spacing of letters. It looks like Dada poetry. Dada is often fun. The gist of it is that a scientific study says using two spaces after a period makes a text more readable than one space after a text (though some argue, and I agree, that this two-space rule is a holdover from typewriters and monotype fonts (in which each letter takes up the same width, regardless of it being an “i” or a “w”). With today’s word processors, fonts are no longer monotype (and so two spaces aren’t needed).

First thing, though, is that I was taught as a journalism student that science doesn’t  “prove” things; rather, it provides evidence that support theories. So when I read this headline, I think: Bad journalism! (Knowing how hard newspaper work is these days, especially for the copy editors who write the headlines, I can be forgiving. Though it is also this kind of use of the word “prove” in a scientific setting that allows for the slippage between the common understanding of “theory” as meaning a guess and the scientific understanding of the word “theory” as meaning a hypothesis that can be tested to find evidence in support of the hypothesis.)

Then there’s the experiment itself. The sample size—60 students—is far too small for the amount of certainty the story and the headline give it. Again, this is the same kind of bad journalistic reading of science that allowed for the word “proved” to be used in the headline.

Even worse is how the students were tested using a device called the Eyelink 1000, which tracks eye movements as someone reads. As the article states:

Most notably, the test subjects read paragraphs in Courier New, a fixed-width font similar to the old typewriters, and rarely used on modern computers.

In other words, the students were tracked while reading a font for which people should use two spaces after a period, but which most people don’t use.

So which side are you on? One space or two?


RIP Storify


The Storify logo appeared to be an “S” or was it begin and end single quotes? Storify is at an end.

For the past seven-plus years, I’ve made 34 Storify stories by combining posts from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to tell stories in different ways. At the time I started, it felt like a great possibility for storytelling in general (check out this Storify) and the future of journalism in particular.

Storify will come to an end on May 16, 2018—and so will access to all the stories people created over the years.

So here’s a look back before it leaves.

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My Oscar picks (of what I’ve seen in the last year)

Best best picture nominee, that I’ve seen
Spotlight, but I’ve only seen Spotlight, the Martian, and Mad Max: Fury Road (I liked them all)

Best Star Wars thing
Sure, the movie was fun, but the Solo Family Portrait blew me away.


Best real depiction of journalists
Spotlight has been hailed for its realistic portrayal of the process of investigative journalism. Just as important was showing actors looking like real journalists. What stood out for me was Brian D’Arcy James in Spotlight, at right, looking so much like the Times Union’s Tim O’Brien, at left.


Best nominee I’ve met
David Lang, shown below, in the elevator at the Tang Teaching Museum — photo by me. He’s nominated for his composition “Simple Song #3” from the soundtrack for “Youth.”

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Best accent to listen to
Saoirse Ronan’s Irish accent rocks.


Best accent to do
Tom Hardy’s character Ivan Locke in the 2013 movie Locke: “Yes, it’s there, it’s there. It’s got everything you’re going to need in there. All the numbers, the sign offs, the road closures that you have to confirm with the police. The drawer above the blow heater.”


In memory of Medill professor Bob McClory

“So I’m thinking it’s either a Pulitzer in six years, or a mental hospital for you.”

That was Bob McClory, a journalism professor of mine who died last Friday at age 82. Or at least that’s what I remember him saying at the end-of-the-quarter meeting about my writing and final grade when I was a journalism undergrad student at Medill at Northwestern.

He thought my continual use of quotation ledes ventured onto the less sane side of decision-making. What I heard though in that sentence was: I see what you’re doing. I don’t always get it or agree with you, but I believe in you. He probably said the same thing to lots of other students.
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A few words to a young writer about arts journalism

I was recently interviewed via email by a high school student interested in arts and entertainment journalism. Here are some of the questions and answers:

Q: What different professions have you held in order to get where you are now?
A: I had a journalism internship at the Bellingham Herald in Bellingham, Wash., when I was still a college student majoring in journalism, but I also taught English in Japan, edited a phone book, worked as a copy writer for an advertising agency, and worked as a copy editor at a newspaper before becoming the arts and entertainment editor, all the while I wrote freelance reviews of books, plays and concerts.

Q: What classes did you take, throughout high school and college, to put you in a place to get the job you wanted?
A: In my high school, I was on the honors track, meaning I got to take AP classes (history, chemistry, English, calculus), as well as other advanced-level class, but I also took theater courses throughout high school. In college, I was a journalism major, but also took many courses in political science, philosophy and English. In graduate school, I earned a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, but also studied Japanese language and culture.
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