The Best Media Writing of the Week

Seating Front Row at Fashion Week, Bookstores of The Near Future and Media Lives Wasted as Talking Heads

By Published on .

It's Fashion Week, as you may or may not know, and The New York Times' Eric Wilson welcomed the sartorial extravaganza with a look at how designers (and their PR helpers) determine which journo sits where and, most importantly, who graces the front row at their runway shows. I'm a sucker for stories that unveil the inner workings of this business based, as it is, on the whims of some truly crazy people. But don't be mistaken: this is high-pressure stuff, as the following passage attests:

Worse, any seating faux pas will be instantly broadcast by the pack of journalists and photographers whose beat is the choreography of the front row. "It has been changing for a while, since Billy Boy and that funny little girl who was 13 and looked 97 came along," said Michael Roberts, who was the Vanity Fair fashion director until June, when he was replaced. (Mr. Roberts, now a style editor at large for the magazine, was referring to the famous-before-their-bedtime bloggers Bryan Boy and Tavi Gevinson.)

Newsweek wasn't helped much at all by the steady plastering of Jonathan Alter's mug across MSNBC.
Newsweek wasn't helped much at all by the steady plastering of Jonathan Alter's mug across MSNBC.
I've always had a hunch that for all the time that print journalists spend grinning away at CNBC or MSNBC cameras, they weren't doing anything for their brands. Jack Shafer nets out in the same place in a Slate column concluding that Newsweek wasn't helped much at all by the steady plastering of Jonathan Alter's mug across MSNBC.

Yes, a group of Newsweek writers have appeared on TV "more often than most practicing Catholics attend Mass," Mr. Shafer writes, but the benefit accrued to their own personal brands much more than to Newsweek. And their ubiquity on the air certainly didn't prevent the newsweekly from being sold to a stereo-equipment magnate for a buck.

Mr. Shafer concludes with his own ill-fated grab at the spotlight a few years ago when Slate made its own assault on the airwaves. On one occasion, he was bumped for news of Charlton Heston's Alzheimer's diagnosis:

I took the preemption harder than I should have. If I couldn't compete with a guy whose Alzheimer's disease had prevented him from going onto the tube to discuss it, what chance did I have to make it as a talking head? To mark the death of my TV career, I left Fox without combing out the weird hairspray or removing the makeup. Arriving home, I opened the door to taunt my wife with what I'd look like embalmed.

Cyberpunk author William Gibson came up with an interesting repurposing of the bookshop in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Asked how he would do things differently with bookstores, he replied:

My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they're able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they're remarkably sophisticated. You'd eliminate the waste and you'd get your book -- and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper.

Fast Company's Adam Penenberg discovered firsthand how Twitter can be used to beat big, professional news organizations when he discovered that Ford was found liable in a $131 million lawsuit filed by the family of a New York Mets prospect killed in an Explorer rollover:

So I got on Twitter, dashing off a two-hour burst of tweets about the case and why it was big news. I told the horrific tales of rollover accident victims and shared some of my reporting on the Ford Explorer, which Ford's own internal documents showed was dangerously unstable. I offered context for the verdict, linked to previous articles on two earlier trials that had ended in hung juries, and berated journalists for not getting on the story. I was live tweeting my reporting and analysis simultaneously, using micro blogging as my publisher, which was, as the Muck Rack Daily would put it the next day, "a very interesting use of Twitter."

Suffice it to say, it took the rest of the news business some time to catch up.

Vast wasteland. Idiot box. You can take all the nasty names we called TV while growing up and toss them out the window, says The New York Times' David Carr. The columnist -- and heavy Tweeter -- doesn't even have time for all the good stuff now sitting on his DVR. Think of it as a elegy for those mind-numbing days when the boob tube was just that and not some new, cool, trendy friend who's impossible to keep up with:

Television, which was once the brain-dead part of the day, had become one more thing that required time, attention and taste. I have fond memories of the days when there were only three networks and I could let my mind go slack as I half-watched Diane and Sam circle each other on "Cheers," because that was pretty much the only thing on. Did watching those shows raise my cultural I.Q. or put me in the thick of social media discussions over whether Snooki was actually the author of her own place in the cultural narrative? Um, no. But neither did it turn me into a cool hunter, worried about missing something, or a technologist, juggling devices and platforms the minute I got home.

Most Popular
In this article: