Wired's Boobs Cover, James Frey's Onerous Terms and Facebook's Defense

The Best Media Writing of the Week

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The web may be dead, but boobs will live forever as magazine cover fodder, even for -- or maybe especially at -- geek bible Wired. Readers of its latest issue will be greeted with a high-quality closeup of anonymous cleavage and the coverline "100% Natural," a tease to a piece on breast tissue engineering. This isn't the first time Wired's gone the cheesecake route, and it is the last straw for blogger Cindy Royal. Ms. Royal voiced her annoyance with a string of cover girls who, to her mind, are there more for the way they look than for what they've achieved: Julia Allison, Uma Thurman, Pam from "The Office" and so on.

[T]he last time that a woman was featured on your cover, because she was being featured in the magazine for an actual accomplishment, was way back in 1996 when it was Sherry Turkle, the academic and author. And, the only other time was in 1994, when musician/author Laurie Anderson was featured. Because since then, I guess no women have done anything notable in technology unless it had to do with their bodies? Really?

Not one to have his knockers knocked, Wired Editor Chris Anderson showed up in the comments with a calm, reasoned discussion of his cover approach. One problem, he said, is "not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover." But it's not just about women and Wired:

"[W]e have trouble putting *people* on the cover. It's the same reason: They have to sell, and what sells for us is either big ideas (sans people) or well-known, likable people with interesting things to say. The problem is that there aren't enough geek celebrities, so we often end up going with celebrity geeks instead. Our Gates and Zuckerberg cover didn't sell as well as our Will Ferrell cover. I'm glad we did both, but at the end of the day, we have to work on the newsstand to be a profitable business.

Speaking of challenged integrity, James Frey has reemerged with the news that it's a bright, shiny morning for... onerous contracts for the aspiring writers of young adult fiction whom Mr. Frey hopes to help make it big. New York magazine's Suzanne Mozes dropped a long piece on Full Fathom Five, the fabulist's new company, which isn't shy about getting the terms it wants:

This is the essence of the terms being offered by Frey's company Full Fathom Five: In exchange for delivering a finished book within a set number of months, the writer would receive $250 (some contracts allowed for another $250 upon completion), along with a percentage of all revenue generated by the project, including TV, film and merchandise rights -- 30% if the idea was originally Frey's, 40% if it was originally the writer's. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. Full Fathom Five could use the writer's name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer's full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would "conflict" with the project, without specifying what that might be. The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures or biographical materials. There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission.

Some writers were happy enough to sign. "It's a crappy deal but a great opportunity," one writer told Ms. Mozes.

Which about sums up media in the 21st Century.

Back in the land of the earnest and the well-meaning, The Atlantic's excellent tech writer Alexis Madrigal mounted a lovely defense of Facebook and the connections forged there. Written in response to a New York Review of Books piece by novelist Zadie Smith in which she expressed her alienation from social networking, Mr. Madrigal's meditation takes the often banal goings-on and makes them sound transcendent, as here in the very personal kicker, about her long-distance relationship and its tradition of trading photos:

Perhaps I should have been thinking about all the technology that went into sending me that photo. The charged-couple device that could capture the light, the wireless networks, the way the device I was using was turning me into a bumbling idiot absorbed with the virtual instead of the REAL WORLD.

But I didn't. I thought about the hands that took the photo, fingers and the fingernails, then wrists and arms running up to shoulders and along the ridge there to the face hiding under a bonnet of curly locks. I saw her looking at farm animals and thinking of a home.

That particular pile of bits wasn't just a pile of bits. It was like bones, an intimation of a body and a place, a body in place. A story. Our messages carry with them the smudges and swipes, the tap-taptaps we use to make meanings. For transport, they are flattened and virtualized. Then it is up to us -- as an act of imagination -- to reinflate them. This relationship predates, well, everything.

Last week, we explored the Washington Post's "Dancing Bears" debacle. In the interest of telling the full story, we'll now end with a more successful video effort from the newspaper. This promotion for the Post's iPad app -- which itself looks strong -- is a tongue-in-cheek little gem, the highlight of which is the ancient Ben Bradlee teaching Bob Woodward how to use the device.

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