paper trail

Facebook as the Blob; Seymour Hersh speaks

PEN has just dispensed more honors: winners include Saeed Jones in poetry, for Prelude to Bruise, Sheri Fink in nonfiction, for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, and Rob Spillman, who was given a magazine editor’s award for his work at Tin House.

The Awl weighs in on the so far very short history of Facebook’s “Instant Articles”, analyzing what we can learn about the institutional anxieties of the New York Times et al. from what they choose to publish in the social network’s news feed: “Print publishers are jumping straight in with the long-formiest longform they have, as if to say, ‘look, Facebook will not interfere with our goal of publishing many very long and Very Good things.’” (Some commentators have been quick to soothe, saying that in all likelihood nothing bad will happen here.) There are apparently insecurities on the other side of this particular aisle too. The Awl’s John Herrman wants to reassure “the various Facebook employees who have expressed surprise and disappointment, in public and to me directly, at the constant criticism their company receives” that people’s fears about the new arrangement are nothing personal: “It’s not about you”. Still, the Awl’s detailed notes are accompanied by some very fetching ravenous-giant-blob gifs.

Meanwhile, the Times’s Dean Baquet answers some questions on his first year as executive editor, offering a vivid image of his accountability to his staff. “If I ever let the numbers start to dictate our journalism,” he says of the current emphasis on analytics and “audience development”, the “reporters would open a window in the newsroom and throw me out.”

Baquet also discusses the use of anonymous sources, which brings us to Seymour Hersh. NBC News has backed off somewhat from its initial confirmation of some key aspects of Hersh’s LRB story on the killing of bin Laden. For his part, Hersh granted Slate a pleasingly characterful interview about the whole situation: “I don’t mean to yell at you,” he tells Isaac Chotiner, “but I feel good doing it.”

Sally Mann discusses her approach to both photography and writing (that of “some ungodly cross between a hummingbird and bulldozer”) in the New York Times. While working on her new memoir Hold Still, she recalls telling her editor, “People are going to hate me when they read this; they’re going to think I’m a horrible person.” And at Omnivoracious, Amazon’s Book Review, Mann describes the painstaking process of capturing the images of her children that once caused such opprobrium in the press, such as “The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude”, which “made me feel a bit like a demented terrier in unswerving pursuit of her quarry.”