HEWN, No. 302

"He kills it with a laser gun and then the knife. Then they send it to the butcher." -- Jack Dorsey on Mark Zuckerberg's dinner of goat

A programming note: From here on out, HEWN will deliver the pigeons on Fridays rather than Saturdays. I’m trying to make some positive shifts towards that whole “work-life balance” thing — among them, not working every single day of the week. Kin has left the realm of the self-employed and re-joined the realm of the employed, so he will have weekends off. We plan to do things together that do not involve sitting in front of a computer screen.

This week’s pigeon is an English long-faced muffed tumbler:

(Image credits)

Both Kin and I, for the past eight years or so, have run news and analysis -ish sites for our respective industries — his, APIs; mine, education technology. Neither of us have ever taken venture capital; neither of us have sites that are ad-supported. It’s been hard to compete with those sites that do. It’s hard for anyone, I think, to compete with Facebook and Google and their stranglehold on journalism. So many talented journalists were laid off this week from Buzzfeed and HuffPo and elsewhere; and I do worry deeply about the sustainability of all of this — on a personal and on an institutional and on a socio-political level.

The destabilization of journalism reminds me often of the destabilization of public education — both institutions quite key to democracy. There are narratives at play in both cases about the “disruption” of the digital. These narratives frame the digital as inevitably triumphant (and either utterly destructive or brilliantly innovative at that). Too often we don’t look at some of the other factors involved in the mess — venture capital and private equity, for example — choosing instead to go along with the story that organizations with newsrooms and classrooms just can’t compete in this new fast-paced, high-tech, online world. There was news this week of a spate of college closures, and you can always predict how the various pundits and analysts are going to respond: some gleefully and some woeful in turn about the demise of the university. They’re mostly thrilled that their predictions seem to be true. Swarthmore historian Timothy Burke wrote an excellent response to these typical responses: “College of Theseus,” one that looks more closely at the history of certain college's reorgs and closures -- a story that challenges the “trend” story and the notion that all institutions face certain doom.

Nuance is important; but capitalism is still bad.

Read: Kashmir Hill’s series on “Life without the Tech Giants.” (Reminder: Google is terrible.) Lili Loofbourow on the news cycle as “event politics.” Steven T. Wright on the history of Livejournal. Robert Caro has an excerpt of his forthcoming book, Working, in The New Yorker -- it's a bit on searching through archives, turning over all the right pages in order to find and tell the story. And on that note, now that I’m completely overwhelmed by Caro’s work habits, I need to go back to all the notes I have from all the archives I've visited researching Teaching Machines. Gotta try to get more words written before the weekend...

Yours in struggle,