Junkets, Supercookies and the End of Ideas: The Best Media Writing of the Week

'Basically, I Became the Silkwood of Swag'

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If you had told me a lightly fictionalized retelling of a 2-year-old, low-grade journalism scandal -- excuse me, "scandal" -- would just perfectly pass the time on a Spirit Airlines flight from Detroit to New York, I would have called you crazy. Yet, as I began reading Mike Albo's "The Junket" on the return leg of a trip you could safely call The Un-Junket, all dark visions about future chiropraxis resulting from the spine-pretzeling seat and the memory of the overly vivid explanation of exit-row duties ("If the engine on the left wing catches fire...") were pushed out of mind.

You may or may not recall that Mr. Albo, a freelance writer, lost a twice-monthly shopping column gig for The New York Times when it was discovered he attended a freebie weekend in Jamaica paid for by Thrillist. Jayson Blair he was not. But that didn't stop The Times, presumably reacting to the unbearable pressure of the few bloggers who chimed in on this affront to standards, from quickly dumping the writer. His version of events, available as a Kindle Single, manages to be neither overly bitter nor whiny while still damning the company that betrayed him as weak-willed, overly susceptible to external pressures and, quite simply, ridiculous in its demands on an $1,800-per-month part-time employee. If nothing else, the episode earned Mr. Albo a place in the poorly-paid freelancer canon, alongside Meghan Daum's "My Misspent Youth" and last year's "How to Make Vitamin Soup" from Richard Morgan.

I was punished because I was caught. The news monolith needed to cut its losses with me because if it didn't, more would have to come out. I was perilously close to exposing a secret underground economy of promotion -- favors and junkets and banquets and gifts that keeps the city in motion, and keeps underpaid writers at work.

Basically, I became the Silkwood of Swag.

The Wall Street Journal's Julia Angwin had a break this week about the use of "supercookies," which, somewhat disappointingly, refers not to a Nietzschean baked good but a file that allows your web behavior to be tracked even if you don't want it to be. The existence of these supercookies, so resistant to track-me-not efforts that some folks are taking, is probably not good news for the online advertising industry as it tries to prove it can regulate itself. A big part of making that case is allowing people to easily opt out tracking programs:

Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate, identified what is known as a "history stealing" tracking service on Flixster.com, a social-networking service for movie fans recently acquired by Time Warner Inc., and on Charter Communication Inc.'s Charter.net. Such tracking peers into people's Web-browsing histories to see if they previously had visited any of more than 1,500 websites, including ones dealing with fertility problems, menopause and credit repair, the researchers said. History stealing has been identified on other sites in recent years, but rarely at that scale.

Channeling the maniacal but surprisingly competent German doctor from "Human Centipede (First Sequence)," Fast Company's Adam Penenberg used a crowdsourcing platform to crowdsource a column about that platform. Where's the poo, you ask? Try this bit the crowd produced about Servio's founders:

Alex Edelstein, the Chief Executive Officer, founded the company with Chief Technical Officer Jordan Ritter. With his short, dirty blond hair and groomed five o' clock shadow, Jordan Ritter looks like the typical college fraternity brother. Alex Edelstein looks more like he just stepped off the set of Project Runway, with wavy, blond locks that graze his shoulders. [Editor's note: Edelstein has cut his hair since the piece was filed.]

Reuters' Felix Salmon convincingly whithered the M&A scoop, his evidence being the fact that no journo broke Google's deal for Motorola prior to its official announcement:

And then there's the more general decline of the scoop ecosystem. No longer is it possible to control the way that a story is received by leaking it strategically for prominent placement on the front page of the WSJ or NYT or FT. All those publications will put the news online first, it will instantaneously get disseminated across hundreds of news sites, and the resulting front-page story -- if it even makes the front page, seeing as how it's now commodity news -- will be reported out rather than a single-source affair.

And finally, Neal Gabler had a well-worth-your-time and much-dissected New York Times essay on the death of the big idea:

It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. While we continue to make giant technological advances, we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock -- to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief. But post-Enlightenment and post-idea, while related, are not exactly the same.

Post-Enlightenment refers to a style of thinking that no longer deploys the techniques of rational thought. Post-idea refers to thinking that is no longer done, regardless of the style.

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