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A weekly conversation between friends.

Featuring: 
  • Trump's Threat to Press Freedom: Insights from the Turkish Experience.
  • A Vote for Earnest Conversation and Self-Reflection.
  • The Opportunities as Journalism Confronts Digital.
  • Toshiro Mifune: The Last Samurai. 
  • Paul Cezanne's 'Bathers at Rest.'
  • Gavin Schmitt: Canada's Volleyball Superstar.
  • Toughening Up Progressive Political Strategies.
  • The Heavyweight and the Art of Storytelling Through the Podcast.
  • And more.

Trump's Threat to Press Freedom: Insights from the Turkish Experience  

President-Elect Trump’s expressions of distaste for and hostility towards the press were a regular feature of his election campaign.  He blacklisted certain media outlets from his rallies, repeatedly threatened to sue the New York Times, and vowed to “open up” the libel laws to make it easier to sue the press.  Whether he intends to follow through with his threats—and indeed, many of his campaign promises—is far from clear.  But based on his statements and actions to date, President-Elect Trump appears to pose a truly unprecedented threat to freedom of the press in the United States.

If Trump is looking for advice on how one might beat a nation’s press into submission, he might pick up the phone and call Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 


Read more.

A Vote for Earnest Conversation and Self-Reflection 

Anthony Bourdain: “I think we need outreach, understanding, to look inside yourself and ask, how the fuck did we get here?”

I’ve been having a lot of conversations about thoughtful engagement this week. I acknowledge that I largely live in a bubble, most of my friends have degrees, have lived elsewhere, and read quite a lot, but I was still surprised by the responses to our conversations (how naive?). Several people told me they feel uncomfortable engaging in discussions on race because they feel too stupid or uneducated, or they were afraid of others taking offense. The issues we discussed last week related to the explanatory comma are definitely quite contentious. And as soon as I brought up political correctness, the conversation was inevitably derailed to the issue of “siloing” in academia. When I challenged someone on the tone of a Facebook post related to the Berlin terror attack, we had a productive discussion on framing for Twitter vs. Facebook, and how we may be contributing to anxiety by putting this stuff on our feeds, but the person also firmly said they didn’t want to overthink all their posting.*

I guess what I have been more interested in engaging with lately is the preconceptions that lead to explanations, not the facts, and now is a particularly ripe time to engage with lots of different people, because most of us have just graduated from the same mandatory crash course on American politics. I am equally aware that we will soon face our own electoral struggles, and if the last federal election and the current leadership races are anything to go by, it will be an ugly time. I’m upset and pessimistic, but I appreciate that this past year has forced me to put some personal work into developing my understanding and conversation skills on issues of race and gender, because they aren’t going away any time soon, and the need for allies and advocates, engaged citizens, is greater than ever.

And it IS work, complex and nuanced. It’s like learning a new language, with all the humiliations and miscommunications that go along with actually using it, and maybe there’s guilt in there as well. But it’s more productive than just reading another thinkpiece or explainer (looking at you Vox). I hope that you’ll join us in our ongoing conversations around these issues, because we’re all processing and learning. Drop us a note at team@theread.ca

*As an aside: What does it mean to be an informed citizen now, and what role does Facebook, with its desire to trap you forever in its platform, play in that?

The Opportunities as Journalism Confronts Digital 

 
Most Canadians live in a city with a local newspaper owned by Postmedia. In Edmonton, where I grew up, I have seen it gut the Edmonton Journal from its revered status as one of the best newspapers in the country (earning it the first Pulitzer awarded outside of the United States), to a publication filled with more advertisements and wire service content than local news. And as it reduces its local content, readers will turn elsewhere to find information about their community, causing Postmedia to make further operational cuts. It’s a vicious cycle that leads readers without access to accurate and timely information about their community.

The story isn’t new. Digital is killing traditional journalism in North America and it’s unlikely that it will survive in its current form much longer.

However, it’s not all bad. The digital revolution is certainly overthrowing traditional forms of journalism, but in its place, it’s opening up new opportunities that can lead to better, more relevant journalism.

That’s the message from the recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, which explores media innovation in the digital age. In it, you’ll read the challenges and prospects journalists must address to remain viable in the digital age, as well as case studies and insights on the future. Here are pieces I recommend:
  1. Print is Dead. Long Live Print. — Michael Rosenwald dives deeper into the assumptions made about print and digital, and how publications should move to digital.
  2. Can the Digital Revolution Save Indian Journalism? — Lakshmi Chaudhry explores the booming media entrepreneurism  startup community in India, and how it’s pushing the limits of free expression.
  3. The Revolution at The Washington Post — Kyle Pope interviews Shailesh Prakash and Joey Marburger of The Washington Post, one of American journalism’s greatest brands that has undergone dramatic transformation to remain relevant in the digital age (and after being bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos).

Toshiro Mifune: The Last Samurai

 
I discovered Akira Kurosawa, the renowned Japanese filmmaker, during the first year of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta. I was bored and frustrated with my life, and stumbled upon his work at the local public library. I started with Seven Samurai, and then worked myself through Rashomon, Yojimbo, Ran, and others fairly quickly. Then I watched them again. And then a few times more.  Kurosawa’s films turned out to be the therapy I needed to get through the shit in my life.

If you are familiar with Kurosawa, then you know about Toshiro Mifune, the Japanese actor often cast as the lead in his films. Mifune made his debut in a Kurosawa film, and the two ended up making 15 films together, including my favourite Sanjuro. As Kursoawa’s filmmaking style revolutionized the world of cinema, so did Mifune through his acting.  Mifune brought an emotional authenticity and sensibility to his roles that has influenced a generation of actors, including Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.

 
The life and legacy of Mifune is explored in a new documentary called Mifune: The Last Samurai. It hasn’t been released in Canada yet, but here is filmmaker Steven Okazaki discussing the impact of Mifune, as well as a Daily Beast run down of the documentary.
From The Barnes Foundation commentary on ‘Bathers at Rest’ by Paul Cezanne: “How they could make any sense of this in 1877, I can’t imagine. It must be like it fell from the sky. . . . Critics reacted to the strange anatomies of the figures . . . . The most interesting moment is that bright green triangle on the grass. Instead of representing light as it looks to the eye, he’s developing his own idiosyncratic vocabulary for representing nature.”

Gavin Schmitt: Canada's Volleyball Superstar

 
Buried in the middle of the latest edition of Maisonneuve, an award winning Montreal-based magazine on arts and ideas, is “All On the Line,” a feature by Richard Kelly Kemick on Gavin Schmitt. You likely have no idea who Gavin Schmitt is – but he is one of Canada’s most prolific living athletes and is celebrated internationally.

Schmitt is one of the greatest volleyball players in the world. He is a superstar. However, volleyball doesn’t have the same stature here as it does in Europe or Brazil, and so, as Kemick notes, Schmitt blends in with all the other oddly tall men you may find in Saskatoon.

The feature is introduced as a profile of Schmitt. In reality, though, it is about Kemick, who as a former volleyball player, comes to terms, in a hilarious and somewhat bitter manner, with the fact that he can never enter the world of elite volleyball.  

Toughening Up Progressive Political Strategies

 
In Canada, we have  progressive governments at municipal and provincial levels, and one holding the federal government, but most of us appreciate the tenuousness of the progressive hold on power and are worried about upcoming elections. As one of our friends said the other night, “it’s time to bring a knife to the fight.”

While we don’t agree on whether some of the distasteful tactics the right has used, like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and dog whistle politics, should be incorporated into progressive strategies for gaining and protecting political power, none of us deny the need for progressives to be constructively loud and visible. Since we're Albertan, we see success coming from pragmatic, local engagement strategies, built on an acceptance of the limitations of our political representatives’ abilities, which is why this playbook that just came out in the U.S., updating Tea Party strategies for the left, seems sensible and worth a read.

The Heavyweight and the Art of Storytelling Through the Podcast

 
Canadians likely know Jonathan Goldstein from his show WireTap on CBC radio. His sardonic humour, unique storytelling style, and distinct voice have made him one of the top podcasters in the game. His latest podcast, Heavyweight, may be his best work yet, topping year-end lists as the top podcast of 2016.    

Tara,” the third episode of Heavyweight, demonstrates why the podcast is receiving such rave reviews, and why Goldstein is so good at his craft. Over the course of 30 minutes, Goldstein exemplifies the very best of storytelling through the medium.

The Week's Links

 
Saskatoon is a bastion for female politicians, with women holding 6 out of 11 city council votes. In comparison, in Edmonton the ratio is 1 of 12, Calgary 2 of 15, Victoria 5 of 9 (gets bonus visibility points for Mayor Lisa Helps), Ottawa 3 of 24, and St. John’s 1 of 11. In case you forgot, in the 2015 federal election a record number of women (88) won seats, amounting to 26% of Parliament. #womancard

So much happening in this interview with Mitski that even if you have no idea who she is, you’ll still find something in the conversation

Emily Bell’s essay in the recent Columbia Journalism Review is an entry point for further conversations on the role of tech in delivering news.

Way back in May we read ‘Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person’ and it almost featured in a best man speech. It’s the most read NYTimes article of 2016. “Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person.”

Listening to year end musical reviews and was delighted by this story I missed back in April, which combines several of my favourite things: How ‘Maps’ became ‘Hold Up’ via Vampire Weekend and Diplo. For similar stories of the weird ways songs come together, you might like the (now classic) podcast Song Exploder.

The New York Times has published an incredible collection of photos from 2016. Take a peek.

If you enjoy people watching, check out this documentary by film maker Kirsten Johnson. She scrapbooks together clips from her work over several decades, featuring pieces from her mom’s life to life after war in Bosnia. It’s beautifully done. She teaches the patient art of observation, bearing witness, and showing meaningful human interaction with the things she is ‘documenting.’
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