🎧 Is True Crime Jinxed? | On the Media | WNYC Studios

Listened to Is True Crime Jinxed? by Bob Garfield from On the Media | WNYC Studios

We revisit Bob's conversation with filmmaker Joe Berlinger, about the ethics of HBO's "The Jinx."

Whether Robert Durst confessed on camera will become a relevant legal matter in the real estate figure's upcoming trial. The supposed confession — "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." — at the end of HBO's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst has recently been revealed to have been seriously, deceptively edited. In 2015 Bob spoke with documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, co-creater of the Paradise Lost trilogy, about modern filmmaker, the responsibility of the artist and different interpretations of "truth." It's a relevant conversation to revisit, this week in particular.

Some interesting ethical questions here. Something to think about with respect to documentaries, truth, and entertainment value. Some pieces not too dissimilar to how some cable news stations are approaching the news these days.

🎧 Sheila Nevins on Age, Sex, Love, Life, and Everything Else | Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda

Listened to Sheila Nevins on Age, Sex, Love, Life, and Everything Else by Alan Alda from Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda

Sheila Nevins has explored the human condition in the thousand or so documentaries she produced for HBO. From more than 30 years of telling us stories about ourselves, to her experience as a woman in the workplace, Sheila has plenty to say about communicating. And she never holds back. In this delightful episode, Alan Alda talks with Sheila about her life, how she feels about aging, the movement, sex, divorce, documentaries, storytelling, and just about everything else! This episode is sponsored by Calm. Check out www.calm.com/alda for more details.

I always forget that Sheila is as old as she is. She does have a great sense of humor.

She makes an interesting point about humility that people with power (and especially within the entertainment industry) should be aware of and work to improve.

Most shocking was the story she tells about her me too moment and how she viewed it. Definitely a perspective I wouldn’t have expected.

Her perspective about looking at individuals as a way into human problems and making documentaries is similar to a philosophy I remember hearing from Masha Gessen in an interview that Jeffrey Goldberg did with her. The upshot is that, especially for righting wrongs and general atrocities, focusing a story on a particular individual has a lot more power than focusing on the nameless and faceless masses. Sheila’s example of the Holocaust survivor is a particular apt one. (As I think about it Masha would be a great interview for this podcast.)

In fact, I recently watched an immigration related documentary on Frontline and while I didn’t personally find the lead woman very relate-able or sympathetic, I was still pissed off at the process because her individual story was still so powerful.

This general ideal also reminds me of the gut-punch scene at the end of the film A Time To Kill (1996) [spoiler alert] which ends with the command to the jury “Now imagine she’s white.”

👓 Podcasts keep getting better | Nieman Journalism Lab

Read Podcasts keep getting better by John BiewenJohn Biewen (Nieman Lab)
"It turns out that people — well, lots of people, anyway — are hungry for substance. Our attention spans are quite intact, ready, and willing."
Replied to How Long Should a Podcast Be? by Jeremy CherfasJeremy Cherfas (Jeremy Cherfas)

Podnews has a piece that many podcasters could usefully read. The bit that resonated was this quote from Roman Mars:

If you have 100,000 listeners and you edit out one useless minute you are saving 100,000 wasted minutes in the world. You’re practically a hero.

Not quite a hero, I can at least count myself a mini-hero. 

Definitely some sage advice. I recall The Economist going a step further in their analysis a few years back and providing visuals on a 4 minute video: The hidden cost of Gangnam Style: What humanity could achieve if it weren’t galloping in front of computer screens

The hidden cost of Gangnam Style

👓 The Sound of Silence | Numbers Were Burning

Read The Sound of Silence by Ron ChesterRon Chester (numbers-were-burning.blogspot.com)
I just got back from the SF Symphony performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony. It was a most amazing experience, in a most unexpected way. I'm writing this partly as my way of reliving and duplicating what occurred, and partly to keep myself from being stuck in the win of it for the rest of time.

A stunning story here. I love the concept of not only silence being a part of the performance, but the way in which the music and the conductor come together to create the space to make it happen. Storytellers should be aware of this type of direction.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

The speaker made the point that Mahler gives the second violins their own voice, rather than merely having them give depth or support to the first violins. Because of this, he said the conductor (Herbert Blomstedt) had decided to use a placement of the performers that was becoming common in Europe for the Ninth.
Instead of having all the violins on the left of the conductor, with the 1st violins on the outside and the 2nd violins on the inside, he was placing the 1st violins in their usual position, but the second violins would be on the right side of the conductor. This would have the effect of separating the voices so they could be more easily heard.  

November 29, 2018 at 11:11AM

The conductor became frozen, with his arms in the air, just as when he was conducting.
And he was still conducting! Only now he was conducting the silence! No one moved, the concert hall was completely enveloped in peace. With the conductor’s arms still up, and the violin bows still poised above the strings, no one dared to applaud. If they were wrong and it was not the end, their clapping would be a rude interruption of the music. And I’m sure that was exactly what the conductor intended!  

November 29, 2018 at 11:15AM

Hat tip: Turning Points by Ron Chester

👓 How to Teach Google What a Story Is | The Atlantic

Read How to Teach Google What a Story Is (The Atlantic)
Deep inside Google, a small team has been trying to solve a problem that's easy for any schmuck around the watercooler but frighteningly difficult for the world's most data-rich company: telling a story.

🎧 Season 2 Episode 6 The King of Tears | Revisionist History

Listened to Season 2 Episode 6 The King of Tears by Malcolm GladwellMalcolm Gladwell from Revisionist History

Revisionist History goes to Nashville to talk with Bobby Braddock, who has written more sad songs than almost anyone else. What is it about music that makes us cry? And what sets country music apart?

Why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn't: A musical interpretation of divided America.

The big idea in this episode that there is a bigger divide in America that falls along musical lines more than political ones is quite intriguing and fits in with my general experience living in South Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. Having been raised by a Catholic family with one parent from the city, another from the countryside, and having lived in many blue/red states surrounded by people of various different musical tastes, I do have to wonder if there isn’t a lot of value in this thesis. It could make an interesting information theoretic political-related question for research. This might be the type of thing that could be teased out with some big data sets from Facebook.

Beauty and authenticity can create a mood. They set the stage, but I think the thing that pushes us over the top into tears is details. We cry when melancholy collides with specificity.

Malcolm Gladwell in The King of Tears

He then goes on into a nice example about the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses:

And specificity is not something that every genre does well.

This reminds me of a great quote in Made to Stick from Mother Theresa about specificity.

Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

There’s something very interesting about this idea of specificity and its uses in creating both ideas as well as storytelling and creating emotion.

There is one related old country music joke I’m surprised not to have seen mentioned here, possibly for length, tangential appropriateness, or perhaps because it’s so well known most may call it to mind. It plays off of the days of rock and roll when people played records backwards to find hidden (often satanic) messages.

Q: What do you get when you play a country music song backwards?
A: You get your job back, your wife back, your house back, and your dog back.

The episode finally rounds out with:

If you aren’t crying right now I can’t help you…

Thanks Malcolm, I was crying…

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books | The New York Times

Read Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books (nytimes.com)
In an interview seven days before leaving office, Mr. Obama talked about the role books have played during his presidency and throughout his life.

Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.

Continue reading “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books | The New York Times”

The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes

Bookmarked The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes (arxiv.org)
Advances in computing power, natural language processing, and digitization of text now make it possible to study our a culture's evolution through its texts using a "big data" lens. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful to us. Here, by classifying the emotional arcs for a filtered subset of 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg's fiction collection, we find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives. We strengthen our findings by separately applying optimization, linear decomposition, supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. For each of these six core emotional arcs, we examine the closest characteristic stories in publication today and find that particular emotional arcs enjoy greater success, as measured by downloads.