The Best Media Writing of the Week

Beating The New Yorker's Paywall, Defending NPR and Taking Down Conde Nast Memo Mumbojumbo

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The best piece of media writing no one at traditional publishing companies will read is about flaws in The New Yorker website's paywall. That's because the article ran in the quite smart but relatively obscure Flood Magazine. Kevin Shalvey and Jesse Young poke around in the site's code and explain, in completely readable language, how easy it is to bypass the barrier.

We showed this to a few programmers, and the consensus wasn't good. Essentially, the paywall is so poorly designed -- to the point of being amateurish -- that The New Yorker might as well not have one up. The way to create a secure system is to protect the content on a company's server, not on the client side. This is true for any type of media, whether it's music, movies or writing. That the entire digital archive is hosted on Realview servers makes the vulnerability worse because Realview had the opportunity to protect it but didn't. Unfortunately, this isn't a bug that can quickly be patched in one day. It could take weeks.

Juan Williams
Juan Williams Credit: AP
James Fallows might disagree with NPR's unceremonious dumping of Juan Williams -- he who gets edgy around Muslim travelers -- but the always astute Atlantic writer won't have any talk that the public radio organization is just a Fox News for the left. His impassioned defense puts NPR in the current political and journalistic context quite deftly:

NPR, whatever its failings, is one of the few current inheritors of the tradition of the ambitious, first-rate news organization. When people talk about the "decline of the press," in practice they mean that fewer and fewer newspapers, news magazine and broadcast networks can afford to try to gather information. The LA Times, the Washington Post, CBS News -- they once had people stationed all around the world. Now they work mainly from headquarters -- last year the Post closed all its domestic bureaus outside Washington -- and let's not even think about poor Newsweek and US News.

You should only need the LeCarre-worthy lede of John Burns and Ravi Somaiya's profile of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to see why it's included here:

Julian Assange moves like a hunted man. In a noisy Ethiopian restaurant in London's rundown Paddington district, he pitches his voice barely above a whisper to foil the Western intelligence agencies he fears. He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own the way other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends.

Conde Nast, the un-Wikileaks, is integrating its digital and print sales forces, offering the occasion for a jargon-filled company-wide memo, offering the occasion for David Carr to take it apart. The New York Times media columnist gives no quarter to the dense mumbo jumbo in a rather funny post:

We all know that "magazine" is a bit of a dirty word in the current publishing environment, but given the fact that Mr. Townsend is the leader of an outfit built on publications like Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, you'd think he'd mention magazines once or twice in a 523-word document about the future of the company. Nope, instead we get "a consumer-centric business model, a holistic brand management approach and the establishment of a multi-platform, integrated sales and marketing organization."

Kevin Nguyen of the ByGoneBureau talks to editors at three uber-literate websites about their editorial processes. Yes, those still exist, as McSweeney's, The Awl and The Morning News attest. Turns out that one of the biggest issues is finding the right tools that allow for collaborative editing and the project management tasks that arise with a hectic editorial calendar. More than anything else, the post is an interesting look under the hood at a few sites that don't sacrifice smarts for a speedy publishing schedule:

Over the past eight years, the editors have tried out a number of different tools and software. [Morning News co-founder Andrew] Womack recalled an attempt to work an article in Google Wave, which was, in his words, "a disaster." When I asked him if there was anything he wish existed to ease the editing process, he said, "a USB-powered caffeine drip."

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