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Month: March 2013

11 Links

  1. My Gucci AddictionGQ
  2. Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?The New York Times Magazine
  3. Economists See No Crisis With U.S. Debt as Economy Gains — Bloomberg
  4. You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help.The Chronicle of Higher Education
  5. Eight Reasons Business Travelers Shouldn’t Work on PlanesBloombergBusinessweek
  6. An Amazon Problem: The Book Is Dead, Long Live the Book — Spiegel Online
  7. The Lost Tribes of the AmazonSmithsonian
  8. Google Reader lived on borrowed time: creator Chris Wetherell reflects — Gigaom
  9. Castle, Sweet CastleThe Wall Street Journal
  10. Robbie Rogers: why coming out as gay meant I had to leave footballThe Guardian
  11. Video embedded above and on YouTube here: “Medieval helpdesk with English subtitles.”

(Previous link round-ups are available via the links tag.)

Why Michael Wolff is Wrong about Columbia Journalism School

2013 03 25 wrong2

I’ve been meaning, for several months, to provide an update on my experiences here at Columbia Journalism School.

I didn’t expect that my impetus to write would come today in the form of a Michael Wolff column in USA TODAY. But here goes.

Wolff argues that the J-School’s recent appointment of Steve Coll as the new dean, set to take over from Nicholas Lemann this summer, shows that the school is hopelessly misguided.

A hidebound Columbia is failing to modernize, and is neglecting to prepare its students for a bleak job market in the digital world — all while charging massive tuition and fees.

Coll is a “boring” writer, Wolff says, who comes from the decidedly old school worlds of The New Yorker and The Washington Post. And, perhaps even worse, Coll has never Tweeted.

(Wolff neglects to mention that Coll has won two Pulitzer Prizes and has written a total of seven books on topics ranging from the SEC to the Grand Trunk Road to the CIA’s history in Afghanistan.)

I would like to outline what I see as the errors and shortcomings in Wolff’s column.

1. Wolff is wrong about Columbia’s curriculum.

Wolff writes:

Journalism school, especially Columbia’s vaunted program, is often anti-market in outlook. Much of what the market wants, journalism training doesn’t give it. You surely won’t learn at Columbia how to be a tabloid reporter, or an opinionated Fox News host, or an online aggregator, or a brand-name columnist full of brio or bile, or a social or mobile visionary or quant.

This is incorrect. The Journalism School offers classes in online aggregation. It offers instruction in social media. It offers classes in on-air reporting and opinion writing.

And the J-School offers classes in coding — which I should know, because I’m taking a course called “Formats, Protocols & Algorithms: A sampling of journalistic computing.” My classmates and I are learning about Python, APIs, and more.

As for quantitative skills, I took financial accounting last semester and am now studying corporate finance. I have also taken a class in Excel techniques, as well as an investigative skills class in which I learned, among other topics, how best to make use of Freedom of Information Act requests.

2. Wolff is wrong about the school’s approach to career preparedness.

He continues:

Rather, journalism school tends to teach you, admirably or quixotically, many less economically valuable skills: methodological reporting, sourcing protocols, research procedures, and a grounding in ethical and civic responsibility. The ideal goal continues to be to get you a job on The New York Times or The Washington Post, two organizations trying to fire more people than they hire.

First, I’m quite certain that the vast majority of those hiring in the news world do, in fact, value sourcing protocols and ethics.

And second, even glancing at the J-School’s Career Services page reveals an emphasis on preparing students to graduate with the digital and technical skills that employers want.

3. Wolf is wrong in arguing that the school is ignoring the digital news revolution.

He writes:

After many years of avoiding the inevitable, [Columbia] expanded its digital program — curiously hiring a Web editor from London to run it. It now has courses about using data in reporting. But to say it resists the outside world would be kindly.


In a logical if imaginary world, there is no reason why Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism should not be as vital to the building of the front end of new information forms and relationships as Stanford computing students have been to creating the back end.

Perhaps Wolff missed the January 2012 announcement, available on the Columbia Web site, containing the news that Columbia and Stanford’s engineering school are collaborating to form the Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

To quote the Columbia news item: The Institute “will recognize the increasingly important connection between journalism and technology, bringing the best from the East and West Coasts.”

And perhaps Wolff hasn’t seen the report by Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, released last fall, called “Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present.”

4. Wolff is wrong about Columbia’s professors.

He says:

Many of the school’s teachers continue to be journalists who have lost their jobs, or who have barely had them in the first place, or who are book writers or magazine writers — which hardly represents a job market. Indeed, as the news business shrinks, teaching becomes one of its few growth areas.

My professors have included working journalists from Reuters, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among other news organizations. And my non-journalist professors have largely been at the top of their academic fields.

To be sure, Wolff has a larger point: The news industry is in a state of ongoing flux. That’s clear.

And as always, it’s fair to debate the merits of attending journalism school, especially an expensive one like Columbia.

But my feeling is that most of my classmates understand the difficult realities inherent in today’s market, yet have come to Columbia to gain in-depth knowledge, to work closely with seasoned pros, and to become better reporters. (And yes, perhaps I’m biased, as I’ve chosen to take a year off from work in order to attend the J-School.)

Despite technological changes, however, I would argue this: Basic reporting techniques, like research and fact checking, remain timeless.

(Image via

My 2 Favorite NYC Public Transport Apps

2013 03 24 nyc subway

Navigating New York City’s massive subway system, seen above, can be difficult. Especially for those, like me, who are new — or newish — to the city.

I use two helpful iPhone apps to streamline my various journeys.


The first is called Embark.

Opening this free app reveals a touch-responsive map of the city’s subway system:

2013 03 25 embark1

The stations are clickable. You simply 1) choose your starting point, then 2) choose your destination, as I’ve done in the screen shot above.

Then, when you click on the arrows at the top right of the screen, Embark will tell you which trains to take, when they’re arriving, and how long your journey will last:

2013 03 25 embark2

When beginning, if you know which station is closest, you can simply click that stop.

Or, if you need guidance, you can click a button and Embark will use your device’s GPS functionality to find the nearest station. Then the app will direct you, step by step, to that stop.

The maps are all built into the app, so you can use it underground, where there’s no mobile service. (GPS functionatliy, however, only works above ground.)

The maps showing your routes are simple and clean:

2013 03 25 embark4

One especially useful feature is that Embark will re-route you in the event of subway service interruptions.

So if, for example, a train stops running before you make your return trip, the app will automatically suggest an alternative route.

You can read more about Embark’s design and functionality here.

Exit Strategy

The second app I like is called Exit Strategy. It costs $3.99 and is available in iOS, Android, and Blackberry versions.

2013 03 24 exit strat3

The app contains detailed street-level maps of the city. But I primarily use Exit Strategy for what may seem like a trivial task: figuring out which subway car to ride in so that I’m closest to the exit when I reach my final station.

Some of the city’s stations are quite expansive, and have multiple exits. Knowing how to beat the crowds out of the station can save substantial time.

(Indeed, from a design perspective, I find it fitting that the icon, above, features a stick figure in mid-run. This feels like an apt graphical representation of NYC transport from a commuter’s perspective.)

Exit Strategy’s station maps look like this:

2013 03 24 exit strat1

And here’s what the street-level maps look like:

2013 03 24 exit strat2

Readers who navigate NYC’s public transportation system: What are your favorite apps? Am I missing any gems?

(NYC subway image: Wikipedia.)

Thai Baht Hits 5 Year High

The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones reports today:

A rush of cash into Thailand has sent the baht to its highest level in more than five years, making it Asia’s top currency in 2013, as investors clamor for deals in the fast-expanding Southeast Asian economy.

Fund managers also have been pouring money into shares, driving the benchmark SET Index to a 19-year high this week as fund flows have jumped to their highest levels in 44 weeks, according to data provider EPFR Global.

The roughly 5% rally in the emerging-market currency this year is especially surprising, and in contrast to neighboring currencies of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore that have been falling on renewed jitters over Europe’s banking system. That would normally prompt investors to also yank money out of Thailand.


Late Wednesday in New York, the dollar bought 29.135 baht, down from 29.266 baht late Tuesday.

Self Promotion: New Story about Making FOIA Requests

2012 11 05 c b

I have a new story at CoveringBusiness today. It’s all about filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

NY Times: ’36 Hours in Bangkok’

I often enjoy the The New York Times‘s “36 Hours in…” dispatches.

The travel pieces usually convey, in perhaps 1,500 words, both the destination’s atmosphere and practical tips for visiting.

So I was delighted to see today’s “36 Hours in Bangkok,” by veteran correspondent Thomas Fuller.

I especially like the lede, because it mirrors much of my affection for the Thai capital:

Bangkok has hit the sweet spot. It’s modern but far from antiseptic, filled with luxuries, pampering and great food — but still affordable. In the glare of the tropical sun it can be an ugly sprawl of tangled wires and broken pavement. Yet amid the chaos, visitors find charm and, above all, character. Somehow extremes coexist: skyscrapers and moldy tenements; high-end, cloth-napkin dining and tasty street food stalls; five-star hotels and fleabag guesthouses overflowing with backpackers; libidinous hedonism and Buddhist meditation. To travel across Bangkok is to see several worlds at once. Increasingly it is also convenient. The city of paralyzing traffic now has ample public transportation options ranging from boats to an expanding subway system. But if there is one reason visitors return again and again to Bangkok, it is the people. The anonymity and daily grind of urban life is slowly wearing away at the legendary Thai smile. Yet Bangkok remains one of the friendliest cities on the planet, still infused with the Thai village traditions of hospitality and graciousness.

There’s also a slideshow.

Duncan McCargo and Kira Kay on Southern Thailand

New Court Filings on Apple CEO Tim Cook and the DOJ’s E-Books Suit

2013 03 12 tim cook

UPDATE: March 13: Judge Cote ruled today that Cook must testify, Reuters reports.

I have just reviewed some public court documents that provide more details on Apple CEO Tim Cook and the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against the company.

As you may have read in the news, the Department of Justice alleged in a suit filed in April 2012 that Apple and several book publishers illegally worked together to raise e-book prices in an effort to combat, which had gained dominance over the e-book market. All of the publishers have settled. The Cupertino, California-based company is the sole remaining defendant.

As Bloomberg reported on March 8 (Friday), recent court filings show that the government wants Apple CEO Tim Cook to testify in the case.

The newest court filings, posted today, provide additional insight into the case the DOJ is making to depose Cook, and the reasons that Apple’s lawyers are using to try to shield him from testifying.

In a March 6 letter to U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote, filed today, the DOJ argued that “While subsequent discovery only has confirmed the need for Mr. Cook’s deposition, Apple continues to refuse to make Mr. Cook available.”

The government says it has offered various “accommodations in order to minimize any burden on Mr. Cook,” such as “limiting the length of the deposition and providing him a list of examination topics in advance — all of which have been rejected.”

The DOJ letter says that as an “executive team member and confidant” of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Cook “is likely to have highly relevant information regarding Apple’s decision to enter the e-books market and its related strategies that are at issue in this case.”

The government says Cook received updates on Apple’s “efforts to move the entire e-books industry to an agency model, and even received boastful e-mails from Mr. Jobs that Apple had ‘helped stir things up in the publishing world.” The government adds that Cook and Jobs would likely have had private discussions about e-books that “cannot be discovered other than through Mr. Cook’s deposition.”

The DOJ says that Apple has countered that any discussions the two might have had would not be relevant because Jobs’s “statements themselves are not relevant to this action.”

Next, In an emailed letter dated March 11 (yesterday) to Judge Cote, a New York-based attorney writing “on behalf of Apple” opposed the DOJ’s request to depose Cook, cross-moving for a protective order.

The attorney cites a legal standard from past cases that “disfavor[s] apex executive depositions” where “the executive has no unique personal knowledge of relevant facts…lower-level executives can provide the same information…” and “the party seeking discovery has not exhausted alternative information sources…”

The letter references a declaration from Cook stating that he “has no unique knowledge about Apple’s decision to enter the e-books market and recalls no relevant ‘private conversations’ with Mr. Jobs.”

The letter continues: “The complaint does not reference Mr. Cook. None of the 29 witnesses deposed to date testified that Mr. Cook played any role in relevant events. And no publisher witness even mentioned Mr. Cook at his or her deposition.”

The letter goes on to argue that Cook had only a “tangental role as an outsider to the issues in dispute in this case.” The letter also notes that in all, 11 Apple executives will be deposed, and that “on March 12 and 13, the government will depose Eddy Cue, the senior Apple executive who reported directly to and communicated regularly with Mr. Jobs about the day-to-day development of the iBookstore.”

It continues, “Two days later, it will depose a member of Mr. Jobs’ executive team, former mobile software SVP Scott Forstall. And, as the court will recall, the government deposed Apple’s chief marketing offer Phil Schiller (over Apple’s objection) last December…”

“The government should not be permitted to depose Apple’s current CEO on a fishing expedition for what would be, at best, cumulative testimony.”

Note: I have bolded the names above for easier reading.

(Image: “Apple CEO Tim Cook,” via Wikimedia Commons.)

12 links

  1. The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of TroubleThe New York Times Magazine
  2. Noma’s Co-Owner Thinks Bolivian Food Is the Next Big Thing — Bloomberg Markets
  3. In Public Eye, Shining Star of Myanmar Loses LusterThe New York Times
  4. A Friendly Conversation with a Banker — The Billfold
  5. The problem with online freelance journalism — Felix Salmon/Reuters
  6. Revenge of the sources — Ezra Klein/The Washington Post
  7. What Saved the Dow? Sensible Economic PoliciesJohn Cassidy/The New Yorker
  8. Thailand’s illegal immigrants: A deadly cocktailThe Economist
  9. Pad Thai — The Morning News
  10. Missing Nutella, Part 2: Columbia Puts Consumption Far Below ReportThe New York Times‘s City Room blog
  11. China’s ‘farmscrapers’ are highrises that will generate their own food — io9
  12. Video embedded above and on YouTube here: “Space Glider – FPV to Space and Back!”

(Previous link round-ups are available via the links tag.)

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