3 GREAT STORIES: On Facebook, journalism, & downtown Atlanta

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

As the year nears its end, so does this segment — at least in a sense.

This entry is the final 2013 edition of “3 Great Stories” that focuses on original content. In the next two weeks, I will publish my favorite stories of the past twelve months, much as I did during the first six months of the year.

So, without further ado, here are three great stories from last week, a strong week in a very strong year for storytelling:

On second thought … (12/13/13, Slate): If you read this blog regularly, you know I am no stranger to using my life experiences — even my Facebook timeline — as inspiration for entries.

Naturally, I enjoy when other journalists do it, too … especially when they, as I try to do, springboard that inspiration into compelling work that affects a wider audience.

Jennifer Golbeck of Slate’s Future Tense blog does that here. She uses a friend’s question on Facebook — about whether the social media service tracks what you write, even if you don’t post it — and researches her way to a provocative think-piece about user privacy. She finds a study in which the authors, both Facebook employees, freely admit to mining our un-posted writing and using it for their own research.

Golbeck articulates, at her entry’s end, why Facebook users should be alarmed by this:

Facebook studies this because the more its engineers understand about self-censorship, the more precisely they can fine-tune their system to minimize self-censorship’s prevalence. This goal — designing Facebook to decrease self-censorship — is explicit in the paper. So Facebook considers your thoughtful discretion about what to post as bad, because it withholds value from Facebook and from other users. Facebook monitors those unposted thoughts to better understand them, in order to build a system that minimizes this deliberate behavior.

Against ‘long-form journalism’ (12/12/13, The Atlantic): A few clarifications here:

1) The author of this article, James Bennet, states his distaste not for long-form journalism itself, but for its name — specifically, the use of the word “long” to describe this form of journalism.

2) While the article appears in The Atlantic, it was originally written for the anthology Best American Magazine Writing of 2013 … an anthology series I glowingly spotlit several weeks ago.

Bennet deplores the term “long-form journalism” for a few critical reasons: “not only because of the false note it sounds about particular stories,” he writes, “but also because of the message it sends to the world about magazines’ sense of purpose these days.” He makes a convincing case that magazines and web sites have begun to equate length with virtue — or, more specifically, they believe they can use that idea to sell their long-form pieces to readers.

I do not agree with everything Bennet says here, but I love his critical spirit. And I love his clarion call to action from journalists who value quality over click-bait. I encourage any storyteller to read this piece.

Downtown after dark (12/12/13, Creative Loafing Atlanta): Speaking of conversation-starters, here’s another one, this time for anyone who lives in or cares about the city of Atlanta.

(Count me among that list.)

Kevin Hazzard of Creative Loafing Atlanta takes a participatory approach here. In order to get a better sense of the oft-discussed, occasionally reviled area of downtown, he experiences it, traversing the neighborhood for a night and documenting his thoughts in this column.

Much like with Bennet’s piece on long-form journalism, I do not agree with everything Hazzard writes. I also do not believe his version of downtown should be the authoritative version; it is, after all, one person’s experience over one night — hardly a conclusive sample size.

But I don’t know that Hazzard — or Creative Loafing — would disagree with me. The publication consistently does a great job of provoking intelligent discussion among Atlantans, and Hazzard does so here. Take a look at the comments; you will find a wide selection of perspectives on downtown, many of which echo Hazzard’s.

So I applaud participatory journalism like this, as long as it seeks to start the conversation, not conclude it.


Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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