Remember last week when I suggested that there would be more fallout from Floyd Landis' doping allegations? Turns out I was right.
This from the New York Times on Tuesday:
Federal authorities investigating allegations that Lance Armstrong and other top cyclists engaged in doping are considering whether they can expand the investigation beyond traditional drug distribution charges to include ones involving fraud and conspiracy, according to two people briefed on the investigation.
The authorities, who are in the early stages of their investigation, are seeking to determine whether Armstrong, the owners and managers of his former cycling teams and his teammates conspired to defraud their sponsors by doping to improve their performances and garner more money and prizes, one of the people said.
In particular, the authorities want to know whether money from the United States Postal Service, the main sponsor of Armstrong’s team from 1996 to 2004, was used to buy performance-enhancing drugs, one of the people said. Fraud charges can carry longer sentences than charges of drug distribution.
Bicycling magazine has done a pretty good job with this as well. Here's Bill Strickland on why the Landis/Armstrong bombshell is good for cycling.
Of course this isn't exactly a surprise, but way to take the rest of the sport down with you, Floyd.
Landis seems to belong to that clinical breed of sociopath who doesn't feel guilt and whose vast reservoir of competitive willpower let him keep lying through a long and remarkable public relations campaigns to clear his name. For those who have forgotten, he went on a tear after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France, accusing the drug testers who nabbed him of being corrupt, taking on an entire system that is built on the premise that athletes who test positive are guilty unless they can prove otherwise. He wrapped himself in the Constitution and the American flag, claiming to be fighting for all "falsely accused" athletes. (As it turns out, his beef is that they were pursuing him for the wrong thing; he still insists he wasn't taking testosterone but was hopped up on HGH.)
There were seeds of honor in that fight, and Landis cannily exploited a boy-next-door image to use them for his own purposes. Since the episode came on the heels of another say-it-ain't so cycling story -- anyone remember Tyler Hamilton? -- American race fans genuinely ached to believe Floyd. In February 2007, an MSNBC poll of 35,000 people found that 68 percent thought he was "totally innocent of doping."
Again, I think the cycling world knew this was coming (but bravo on the spotlight stealing, what's-in-those-emails way of going about it, Mr. Landis) but it just makes the whole sport look bad all over again. Either way, this has to be a good day for Greg LeMond (who was painted as something of an out of touch old man at the trail) and I guess we can expect a class action lawsuit any day now for all those folks who donated to the Floyd Fairness Fund? What was the final figure on that? $2 million spent on his defense?
I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the last of this.
Well, this is just depressing. From The Sunday Times. Too many journalists, not enough jobs.
Nicholas Tomalin — the wonderful, bombastic Sunday Times writer who died in 1973 reporting from the Golan Heights — thought he knew the answer. In 1969, a happier time for the industry, he began a piece in this magazine by asserting: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.” But if Tomalin were commissioned now, he would strike out that famous gambit and start again.
Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London. But the essential quality for success now is surely tenacity. Look around the thinning newsrooms of the national titles. Look at the number of applicants for journalism courses, at the queue of graduates — qualified in everything except the only thing that matters, experience — who are desperate for unpaid work on newspapers and magazines. Look at the 1,200 people who applied in September for one reporter’s position on the new Sunday Times website. You’d shoot a horse with those odds.
These are the signs of an industry at a strange moment. Hordes of young people still want to become journalists; there are fewer opportunities than ever for them to do so. It is no secret that what used to be called the “print media” has been economically straitened. But just as belts are tightened and we are attempting to map our future in the internet age, the legions of graduates keep coming — arts degrees and journalism diplomas in hand — to join the party. Are they, by attempting to start their journalism careers in 2010, making what the hero of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland calls “a historic mistake”? Is their situation “pre-apocalyptic, like the last citizens of Pompeii… or merely near-apocalyptic, like that of the cold-war inhabitants of New York, London, Washington and, for that matter, Moscow”.
Ever wonder what China's real estate bubble looks like on the ground? The WSJ has a piece today on the city of Ordos, located in a coal-rich part of Inner Mongolia. The idea, as far as I know, was to expand on the existing city to keep the area's commodity income close to home and attract new workers. Good idea, but the "new town" is so far away from the "old town" that no one wants to move there.
Reminds me a little of Brazil's capital city, Brasilia, which was created out of essentially nothing in just 4 years in the late 1950s. The difference there, of course, is that Brasilia attracted all sorts of new residents and now boasts a population of over 20 million.
At least according to James Fallows' cover story in The Atlantic this week.
Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects…. But after talking during the past year with engineers and strategists at Google and recently interviewing some of their counterparts inside the news industry, I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization. Google’s initiatives do not constitute a complete or easy plan for the next phase of serious journalism. But they are more promising than what I’m used to seeing elsewhere, notably in the steady stream of “Crisis of the Press”–style reports.
Two of the three American hikers currently being detained in Iran are local to Colorado (or have local ties) so this piece in the latest issue of Outside caught my eye.
As we hiked into the Zagros Mountains, which rise to nearly 12,000 feet along the border between Iraq and Iran, the driver grew nervous. "We're going to have lunch in Tehran," he said with a tense laugh. He had reason for his gallows humor: Six months earlier, three Americans—Shane Bauer, 27; his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, 31; and Josh Fattal, 27, Bauer's former housemate from the University of California at Berkeley—had walked along this same trail, with disastrous results. The hikers had—accidentally, it seems—strayed across the unmarked border into Iran, been seized by border guards, accused of being U.S. spies, and transported to the notorious Evin Prison, in Tehran, where they remained as this story went to press, in March. Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal are experienced globetrotters who've traveled to such hot spots as Yemen, Kosovo, and Lebanon; two of the three speak Arabic. Yet somehow—through lack of preparation, cultural misunderstanding, ignorance, or a combination of all three—these sophisticated nomads had wandered into one of the worst places on earth to be an American. Now I was retracing their footsteps, trying to understand how they'd made such a catastrophic error.
The path was deserted; when the American hikers were here, at the height of summer, it would have been crowded with families of Iraqi Kurds. The trees along the river would have been leafy and bountiful with fruit, and wildflowers would have speckled the now monochromatic pale green slopes. Ahead of us, a sign in Kurdish script identified the settlement of Zorm, a cluster of stone-and-mud huts perched on an outcropping. We slid down a muddy slope to talk to a farmer drying pomegranate rinds on the roof of his house. He remembered seeing the Americans when they stopped for tea before continuing to the waterfall. Two mornings later, he said, police and intelligence officers swarmed the village, informing locals that "the Americans have been arrested in Iran." The farmer suspected that their transgression had been deliberate, though there are no signs to announce the border. "Nobody has ever made that mistake before," he said. "Who knows? Maybe it was their secret task to go."
Looks like Newsweek is officially up for sale.
Salon has a deeper look.
So what's the problem with Newsweek? I've heard a lot of different theories on the demise of the newsweekly format (turn-around time is too slow, the news cycle is moving too fast, weekly magazines are too much for readers, etc) but most of them, atmo, don't hold water. Newsweek wisely revamped its format over a decade ago, focusing less on spot news (which is stale by the time the magazine hits the printer) and more on in-depth analysis and investigative reporting. Frankly, these efforts are the only reason Newsweek even survived the 1990s. (The Economist, which has never been stronger, is doing the same thing in terms of format.)
So, what gives?
Andrew Leonard, in the Salon article above, pretty much hits it on the head when he calls out Newsweek's dull, dated web site.
I am a voracious consumer of journalism in all formats and I hardly ever find myself at Newsweek.com, whether via a Google search or a link provided by some other party or my own volition. While some magazines -- the Atlantic jumps to mind -- have managed to create lively Web sites while at the same time continuing to produce engaging long-form journalism, Newsweek seems neither to have figured out how to make itself a destination point on the Web or justify its existence in print.
Is it possible that Newsweek's journalists just aren't creating compelling content?
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This craziness is a lot easier to watch now that I no longer live in Virginia.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli started the week by attempting to cover up the offending left breast of the Roman goddess Virtus on the Virginia state seal worn on the lapels of his staff. Last night he dropped the effort and issued a statement indicating he'd decided to stop trying to make Virtus more virtuous. Designed by a committee that included George Wythe, George Mason, Robert Carter Nicholas, and Richard Henry Lee, the bare-breasted Virtus has been on the state seal since 1776. A version has been on the state flag since 1861. But when Cuccinelli tried to put Virtus in a burqa this week, the darling of the Tea Party movement explained without irony: "Just because we've always done something a certain way doesn't mean we always have to continue doing it that way."
The problem with Breastgate was that it distracted from Cuccinelli's other efforts to press the legal machinery of the commonwealth into the service of his own agenda. Between his thwarted attempts to rescind anti-discrimination policies for gays and lesbians at Virginia universities, his one-man lawsuit against Obamacare, his recent approval of a new state policy allowing sectarian prayer by state police chaplains at public events, and his lawsuit suit against the EPA for attempting to regulate greenhouse gases, Ken Cuccinelli has become the Where's Waldo of Fox News stories. But his latest attack—against the University of Virginia's climate science researchers—is more troubling than his assault on bare-breasted Romans.
Vanity Fair has a pretty interesting excerpt from Sarah Ellison's new book, War at the Wall Street Journal, that examines exactly what went down at 200 Liberty Street when Rupert Murdoch moved into the office and began cleaning house. OK, maybe "cleaning house" is a little harsh, as many staffers left without even being asked. But of those who stayed, the transition from old regime to new regime was swift and deliberate ... and went down exactly as many had feared when Murdoch's buyout proposal first went public.
With eerie symbolic symmetry, the very day of [Marcus] Brauchli's (now at the Washington Post) promotion had coincided with the date of Murdoch's $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company. An exceedingly public three-month takeover saga followed, with Murdoch eventually reaching a deal—only after signing an agreement with its previous owner of more than a century, the Bancroft family, to protect the paper's editorial independence. Shortly after Murdoch's bid became public, Brauchli confided to a friend, “I work my whole career to get this job, and now I'm working for Murdoch?”
Within a short time, changes at the Journal had already become noticeable. Murdoch's outspoken statements that there were too many editors at the paper—he was amazed that Journal stories were touched “an average of 8.3 times” before appearing in print—heightened existing anxieties about editorial changes and firings. Traditional “leders”—the long, narrative-driven, front-page stories that had been a Journal trademark—were disappearing in favor of shorter news stories. Brevity had become increasingly desirable, as was anything political. Coverage of the presidential primaries dominated the front page of a paper that had made its name with enlightening features on business and the economy.
We already know that Rupert is a pretty cunning businessman and that he's remaking the Journal is his own (or at least The Sun's) image, but I'd be interested to hear what the old-timers on the inside have to say about his influence. We're down to, what, about 6 really high quality papers in this country? 5? At any rate, when something like the Wall Street Journal comes to an end (that we all saw coming and should have been able to stop) it's worth taking a look.
Besides, Ellison spent 10 years at the paper and is now getting locked out of WSJ press conferences, so she must be doing something right.