There can never be enough journalists like Bill Moyers

Recently my friend and coworker Arpit Mathur passed along a critique of journalism’s sorry state using the leaked iPhone story as evidence.

The sad thing is that we might be amidst some kind of golden age for journalism and are largely unawares.

For evidence, visit sites and services like ProPublica, NPR.org, McClatchyDC, THe Center for Investigative Reporting, Global Voices, Mother Jones, Global Post.

Separate from these organizations are independents who are putting it on the line every day just for passion.

And then there are aggregators like Arts & Letters Daily to help navigate it all and organizations like Media Mobilizing to help empower acts of journalism to be created.

In Philadelphia some investors just made a large bet that Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, part of this city’s infrastructure of journalism has a promising future.

For impact consider what it took to write the “Tainted” Justice” series in the Daily News or “Justice Delayed, Dismissed, Denied” in the Inquirer.

Recently Clay Shirky spoke of the importance of organizations like the Inquirer and Daily News (The Boston Globe in this case) in reporting the Boston Catholic Church abuse scandal.

The news ecosystem is evolving and Philadelphia matters as a testbed for the rest of the nation.

For more examples of this consider the following list of Philadelphia independents, non-profits, for-profits, and organizations: NEPhilly.com, OurPhiladelphia, Philadelphia Neighborhoods, The Frankford Gazette, The Broad Street Review, WHYY, thenotebook, Phawker, Philebrity, Citypaper, Philadelphia Weekly, The Philadelphia New Media Hub, Technically Philly, and the yearly Bar Camp NewsInnovation Philadelphia. And then there is the ever growing quality list covering the arts, food, and sports, way too many too mention in this space.

J-Lab, The Institute for Interactive Journalism, recently published a report on Philadelphia’s news landscape and made some recommendations. Check it out.

Programmers and Journalists are realizing common motivations and many journalists have been thinking about computing in whole new ways that relate to their work.

There are threats. It is harder for acts of journalism we need to know, but are not aware of it, to reach us. The old economic models that have supported it have crumbled. Changes in technology and culture have brought upheaval and amidst that upheaval those with power will abuse that power when not watched. The constraints on our attention and business pressures on those to breach it are huge. It’s important to lay out these threats because they get to core issues having to do with the infrastructure required for acts of journalism to be produced and be effective.

But to re-emphasize my point – there are many organizations and individuals who are doing it today. In some cases have been doing it for years, that we need to somehow amplify among the din.

As a programmer, I recognize this has everything to do with information science, communications, marketing, and development. As a citizen I recognize it has everything to do with our communities, our neighborhoods, cities, our country and navigating the world at large and hopefully making it a better place. One story at a time.

Which makes this a sad moment to note – Bill Moyers has broadcast his last episode of “Bill Moyers Journal” and ended a run of one of the best sources of journalism on television. The Journal will be missed.

NPR.org: “After Four Decades In TV News, Bill Moyers Retires”

NYTimes: “A Breather for Moyers; Next Step Is Unclear”

On accepting love

The following John Perry Barlow piece is deep on a few levels. It works as both a criticism of our culture, and as a call to inspiration. It builds to a lesson I need to learn, and I know plenty of others who need to as well.

John Perry Barlow: “The Pursuit of Emptiness” (Also titled “The Pursuit of Happiness” in the page title!):

…I have found four qualities that I believe naturally enrich the ecology of joy. When I’m capable of sustaining them, they sustain me and continue to do so even in these strange days. They are: a sense of mission, the casual service of others, the solace of little delights, and finally, love for its own sake.

Having a sense of mission has served me extremely well, even better than I thought it would when I wrote Adult Principle Number 15 and bound myself to purpose rather than its by-product. Often I would have been hard-pressed to define mine and it has certainly taken on many different manifestations in the course of my careers, but I have taken a lot of happiness from a sense – often grandiose and sometimes illusory – that I am, by my various actions, helping create a future that will be more free, more tolerant, more open, and more just.

My primary ambition is to be a good ancestor, and though, by definition, I will never know if I’ve succeeded, I am pleased to believe that I’m giving it my best shot.

Connected to the happiness of mission is another joy that can no more be pursued than grace itself: the gift of creation. I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to let art pass through me on occasion. Whether songs, or essays, or interestingly designed haystacks, these manifestations of beauty, for which I take no more credit than the faucet should take for the water, have been wonderful gifts.

The sense that one has become the instrument of invention is so satisfying that I find it truly stupefying that anyone one would claim that artists are motivated to create primarily by the money they might get from such miracles. Not to say they shouldn’t be paid. Paying them provides them with more time and liberty to channel art. But it’s a rare artist who’s in it for the money. A real artist creates because he has no choice. He is pressed into the involuntary service of art, and thereby, humanity.

Which brings me to another solace cheaply available to all. Consider the joys of service. As a few leaders, ranging from Jimmy Carter to the Dalai Lama, demonstrate with their lives, we can become happy through the exercise of compassion. But following the training we receive in schools and workplaces, we have come to regard service as self-suppressing obligation rather than a self-fulfilling responsibility. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I think a related problem is that we tend to approach service the same way we approach exercise programs, in lunges and spasms of temporary idealism. We raise the initial bar too high. We fail to see that they also serve who, while not quite heading off to Calcutta to comfort dying lepers, merely treat the strangers miscellaneously at hand with a little humor and kindness. You don’t have to be Gandhi to be a good guy. There are few things that make me happier than successfully resisting the impulse to snarl at some idle transgressor and elevating myself into an actively benign stance. Such opportunities arise almost hourly. (Not that I always rise to them.) The habit of small kindnesses is immensely rewarding.

Which brings me to another under-appreciated fountain of happiness: the common little joys the universe leaves lying around for the truly casual observer. I think of something Kafka – that noted happiness-hound – wrote:

“It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.”

He is not talking about the pursuit of happiness. He’s not even talking, as one might easily and incorrectly conclude, about lying in wait for happiness. He’s talking about making oneself genuinely available to it. He is talking about opening one’s senses to the little delights – the sunsets, the lilac-scented breezes, the hilarious bartender jokes, the quick flash of anonymous smiles, the inside straights, the large purring cats, the click of stiletto heels, the popping of bubble-wrap, the liquid song of the meadowlark, the shrug of a New York cop – the granular texture of unsolicited joy.

There have been many hard times in my life – including the present – when I took refuge in reduced focus, comforting myself with the glorious filigree of immediate existence. Even a man facing a firing squad can appreciate the dawn that also arrays itself before him.

Finally, and always, there is love. By this, I don’t mean that economic bargain that often passes for love these days. I don’t mean that I will love you if you get good grades, or that I will love you if you’ll sleep with me, or that I will love you ifŠanything. I mean what I mean when I say, “I love you.” Period. Without expectation, condition, term limit, codicil, or obligation. To say that – and to mean it in that way – makes me happy.

What makes me happiest of all is when someone says “I love you” to me – meaning it as unconditionally as I intend to mean it – and I simply accept it. Learning to accept unconditional love has been the most demanding part of my education. It requires me to love myself as much as I am loved, which is not easy, since I like to pretend that my loathsome short-comings are invisible to all but me.

Still, when I love without goal and accept love without doubt, I am happy. In this, I am not pursuing happiness. I am becoming it.

Read the whole thing.

Desk chairs, the conventional wisdom is wrong

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Your Office Chair Is Killing You”

Roger Ebert, “Find out all you can, and see what you can do with it.”

Read Roger Ebert’s latest post: “The golden age of movie critics”.

Easiest Movable Type Upgrade Yet

Over the years I’ve used Userland Frontier, Userland Manila, Userland Radio, GreyMatter, WordPress, PHP-Nuke, PostNuke, Drupal, and have ran this blog using Movable Type for years.

This upgrade was the smoothest yet, probably due to the lack of custom plugins or templates I am relying on these days. But the urge is still there to tinker. So is the urge to ‘minimal’ with something like PyBlosxom, Jekyll, Hyde, or to again write my own (in my work I’ve built full-on CMS’s, thin website frameworks, and have experimented with Django and web.py).

It always comes down to how I choose to use my time. Time is everything.

Kudos to the Movable Type team. Nice work.