Newspapers R.I.P.

June 30th, 2011

Different business sectors have faced the digital revolution in very different ways. The music business has been virtually destroyed by it; mostly because it allowed and still allows its greed to dictate its every decision. Hollywood has embraced it and has tried to adjust to new profit centers and new business models. The book publishing business, perhaps having learned from the mistakes of the music business, has tried to get out ahead of change and tried to make digital books its own and in so doing is creating new, sometimes innovative opportunities.

But no business has approached digital with less intelligence, less vision or less strategic thinking then journalism. Arguably a business that could have been on the cutting edge, it has operated out of fear, ignorance and petulance. The results have been that once great beacons of journalism, like the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, have been decimated. Perhaps the penultimate story about this is told by James O'Shea in his new book The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers. My conversation with James O'Shea:

Where to now?

June 29th, 2011

The first decade of this new millennium has been marked by unprecedented change. Today we are arguably at the apogee of that change. How we understand, cope and manage this change will pretty much determine the fate of the world for at least the 21st century. The editors of the Gallup Management Journal have looked back at the past 10 years, through the ideas of some of our most prominent leaders and thinkers. This collection gives us a fascinating insight into how these leaders have navigated this most perilous period and in so doing, they act as scouts, leading us into an even more uncertain future. The editor of this collection entitled Decade of Change: Managing in Times of Uncertainty is Geoffrey Brewer. My conversation with Geoffrey Brewer:

Mortuary Affairs Unit in Iraq

June 28th, 2011

Every once in a while a conversation comes along that really does surprise as much as enlighten. Jessica Goodell graduated from high school in 2001. She enlisted in the Marine Corp to serve her country in a time of war. In 2004 she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps' Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq. The unit's mission was to recover and process the remains of dead soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Nothing could have prepared for what was to follow.

My conversation with Jess Goodell about her experience and her memoir SHADE IT BLACK: Death and After in Iraq

Why Success Always Starts with Failure

June 27th, 2011

Success, in William James phrase, "demands strange sacrifices from those who worship her." In today's complex times, one of those sacrifices is the ability to be willing to fail. Someone deep in the corporate world once said to me in response to a question about lack of performance, that “you can get into a lot of trouble by not doing anything, but you can get into more trouble by doing something.” The fact is, that in today high speed, high touch, high complexity world, that will not do. To counter this, we need not be afraid of the new or be afraid to fail. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times, lays it all out in his new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. My conversation with Tim Harford:

Pete Hamill’s Tabloid City

June 24th, 2011

Journalism is often referred to as a first draft of history. But more than that, newspapers, especially tabloids, have traditionally been the narrative, the connective tissues that binds diverse and disparate communities. They have explained community to the newcomers and explained the newcomers to the community. Through that local tabloid narrative, we've witnessed and tried to understand the conflicts and follies of daily life. And from that, we form our own understanding of the world. Tabloids in short are the raw material that drives our own op ed view of the world; a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding life. This is the context of tabloid journalism that no one understand better than Pete Hamill. Part of a generation that defined newspapermen, he has been the Editor of two great NY tabloids, he’s the author of over twenty books along with his heartfelt memoir A Drinking Life: A Memoir.

My conversation with Pete Hamil about his latest, Tabloid City

Those Guys Have All The Fun

June 23rd, 2011

Media companies today have become giant, often nameless and faceless corporate enterprises. When we watch TV, we don’t seek out a show just because it’s on Fox or NBC. We don't go to a movie because it was financed or distributed by Universal or Paramount. One of the rare exceptions to all of this is ESPN. It has become not only the dominant player in sports journalism, but one of the most singularly powerful brands in the media landscape. Its on air personalities have become almost as well know at the people they cover. It has grown so large and powerful, like the business it covers, that the barriers to entry for any competitors are almost insurmountable.

How did this happen? What were the moments, who were the players that created this media, social, cultural and journalistic phenomenon? In his oral history Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, James Andrew Miller takes us inside the history of this culture bending company. My conversation with James Miller:

Those Guys Had All The Fun

June 23rd, 2011

Media companies today have become giant, often nameless and faceless corporate enterprises. We don’t seek out a TV shows just because they are on Fox or NBC. We don't go to a movies because they were financed or distributed by Universal or Paramount. One of the rare exceptions to all of this is ESPN. It has become not only the dominant player in sports journalism, but one of the most singularly powerful brands in the media today. Its on air personalities have become almost as well know at the people they cover. It has grown so large and powerful, like the business it covers, that the barriers to entry for any competitors are almost insurmountable.

How did this happen? What were the moments, who were the players that created this media, social, cultural and journalistic phenomenon? The answers lie in a new oral history of ESPN, getting huge attention coauthored by James Andrew Miller.

The book is Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN. Here's my conversation with James Andrew Miller:

Is Greed really good?

June 21st, 2011

25 years ago, Gordon Gekko told us that greed was good. That it was the essence, not only capitalism, but of every aspect of our society. When we look back at that movie moment, we see that it fell almost halfway between the beginning of what economist Jeff Madrick calls the Age of Greed and the crash and recession of 2008/2009. How did we get to the economic landscape we face today? Are there common threads and specific personalities that have forever changed our financial markets? If so, can we trace them to the crises we face today and will it better enable us to understand how to move forward? Economist and journalist Jeff Madrick thinks so and he's laid out the proposition in his new book Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present. My conversation with Jeff Madrick:

The lessons of the last war….

June 20th, 2011

At the moment we are a nation engaged in three wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. We have now been in Iraq and Afghanistan almost twice as long as the American effort in WWII. As we seek an exit strategy, much of the discussion now centers on what might constitute success or victory. In this age of insurgency and counter insurgency, how do we know if we are in fact. winning a war? Since what is past is prologue, it's perhaps noteworthy to look back at America's experience in Vietnam. A war where the wiz kids at the Pentagon quantified everything, but knew the value of nothing, Col. Gregory Daddis gives us an up close and personal look at the lessons of history in No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War. My conversation with Gregory Daddis:

Not your parent’s marriage

June 17th, 2011

I've always liked the notion that marriages are like fingerprints. No two are alike. We see the friends who have the prefect marriage, suddenly split asunder. The couple in a high conflict marriage who have been together for years. We seek soul mates, partners, friends and lovers. We go into marriage with the highest expectations and then often stay in them with a kind of low level ambivalence. All of this is accentuated by the needs, pressures, speed and reality of life in the 21st century. Pamela Haag in Marriage Confidential talks about all the permutations of marriage today and why it's not at all like Mad Men. My conversation with Pamela Haag:

What if our technology turns on us?

June 16th, 2011

Since the dawn of the industrial age, the core of science fiction has been the delicate dance between man and machine. From the primitive fears generated by Frankenstein to the precociousness of HAL to the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 in Terminator, these stories have touched our most primal fears. Today the machines are all around us; our phones, cars, ipods, all ubiquitous, connected, and laden with physics we don’t understand. We talk a great deal about how much information about each of us exists within these machines. What if at a precise moment, all of these machines suddenly turned against us. This is Daniel Wilson's scenario in Robopocalypse: A Novel. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg. My conversation with Daniel Wilson:

A fair food system

June 15th, 2011

Our population is growing exponentially. The need to feed that ever growing population has created new pressures on our food system. However the current system, designed to bring abundant food at low cost, is now broken. It’s consequences, in terms of our environment, our health and our economy, needs to be addressed. This is not just a question of eating locally, but requires a redesigning of our entire food system.

Dr. Oran Hesterman takes up the challenge of what this new system might look like in his new book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All My conversation with Dr. Oran Hesterman:

Climate Capitalism

June 14th, 2011

It’s fair to say that the world as we currently know it, is unsustainable: The increasing demand for water, oil and other natural resources will continue to grow. The economics of taking care of aging populations in the US and China, - the two largest economies in the world - the impact of climate change and the unpredictability of geopolitics, are just a few of the reasons to think that The Future is not possible. However, it’s equally fair to say that there may be a way out. Not by trying to predict or presage the future, but by making the business case for inventing it.

No one makes this case better than Hunter Lovins who, in her new book Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change, makes the case for saving the planet while creating jobs and improving the economy. This book needs to be on the reading list of every politician and CEO. My conversation with H. Hunter Lovins:

A real sporting life

June 13th, 2011

Long long before Title 9, before Billy Jean King, or Brandi Chastain, at a time during the first half of the 20th century, when women athletes were not expected to achieve much in sports, where woman athlete were even considered unfeminine, one woman, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, was breaking records in golf, basketball and track. Even though her life ended at the young age of 45, she is still considered on of the greatest athletes, male or female, of the 20th century. In our current era, where hype is often more important than talent, New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Don Van Natta Jr. looks back at Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. My conversation with Don Van Natta Jr.

Mexico & Mexicans

June 9th, 2011

Regardless of where we are on the issue of immigration, legal or illegal, our relationship with Mexico and our understanding of the Mexican people must be a central pillar of American foreign and domestic policy for decades to come. How we manage that relationship will depend in large measure on the degree to which we understand our southern neighbor. That understanding should include an awareness that is cultural, political and human. Without it, both nations, economically co-dependent, will face tougher times.

No one gets this idea better than one of Mexico's best know public intellectuals, Jorge Castaneda. A former Mexico Foreign Minister under Vincente Fox, now Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at NYU, his new book Manana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans lays out the predicate for that future understanding. My conversation with Jorge Castaneda:

It’s the sex, stupid

June 8th, 2011

As we face bigger and bigger issues in America..a burgeoning deficit, stagnant job growth, eduction falling behind, failing and decaying infrastructure, a shrinking middle class, climate change and a loss of the American proposition. Yet, we still seemed more concerned about the culture wars and more specifically the impact to sex in our culture. Just look at today's headlines. How did we get here, and why has sex and religion subsumed all that it’s important in America and the world today?

Perhaps no one understand this better than Frank Schaeffer. With his father, he was "present at the creation" of the radical religious right. In his new memoir Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, he shows how his mother was ahead of her time in sensing how our personal and public life would be hijacked in the name of the bible, religion and  false, puritanical gods. My conversation with Frank Schaeffer:

They all lie!

June 7th, 2011

From Anthony Weiner to Martha Stewart to Scooter Libby to Barry Bonds...they all lie. Do we have an epidemic of perjury today? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist James B. Stewart thinks we do. Further he thinks that without the truth, and without a mechanism to compel the truth, the links in our judicial chain are fragile indeed. Have we simply lost respect for the public, our courts and our judicial system? Stewart looks at all of this in Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff. My conversation with James B. Stewart:

What if your brain was hacked?

June 6th, 2011

Along with all the other social divisions we face today, we live in a bifurcated society with respect to technology. On the one hand, we rightly continue to run headlong into a future where a younger generation finds new ways to use technology, to multitask, and to reshape their brains around that technology. On the other hand we have an aging population, whose memories are often fading, who don't understand, or at least resist all of this technology. What happens when these forces collide is the basis of a new novel,  Devil's Plaything, by the NY Times Pulitzer Prize winning technology journalist Matt Richtel. My conversation with Matt Richtel:

An Internet Just for You

June 3rd, 2011

For a lot of you it may feel very special to know that Amazon, and Netflix and Apple and Gilt and Google tailor their results just for you. The idea and power of customization is currently the holy grail of the web. The reasons these sites tell us they need to aggregate so much information about us, is so that they can better server us. Lucky us! But what happens when the same principals, the same algorithms apply to our searches for information, our news sources? In this way essentially our algorithms shape how we view the world.

This is not science future. This is happening right now. And its net effect is both frightening and corrosive. Rather than expanding our world, which was the original promise of the Internet, it is arguably shrinking our world. found Eli Pariser takes us inside this world of The Filter Bubble. My conversation with Eli Pariser:

Portraits of Power

June 1st, 2011


Scott Fitzgerald said that "the rich are different." So too are those upon whose shoulders rest the powers and responsibilities of global leadership. Different, yes; but also human. It is that human side, that world press photographer of the year and New Yorker staff photographer, Platon, has captured in his collection of portraits of 150 current international leaders; Power: Portraits of World Leaders. They are from across the political spectrum and together create a larger portrait of global power in the early 21st Century.  The introduction for the book is written by New Yorker editor David Remnick. My conversation with Platon:

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