3 GREAT STORIES: Starring The New Statesman and nuance

Every week, I will 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.

On a recent trip to my childhood home of New Jersey, I was discussing with my father the ways in which people consume media these days.

He and I do it very differently.

My dad sticks with a few sources and does so very traditionally; he reads the New York Times, subscribes to Time, and watches the news on TV every night. In doing so, he stays well-informed on a variety of issues both local — to the New Jersey/New York area — and national/international. In addition, by skimming each source thoroughly, he often exposes himself to subjects he would have never otherwise seen.

I, on the other hand, am all over the place. I have not subscribed to a physical newspaper in eight years, but I canvas the web for news outlets I respect and subscribe to their RSS feeds. My “newspaper” is basically my Feedly stream, and I check it multiple times a day. I usually find out the rest of the day’s big news, like so many these days, through new-media word of mouth: noticing what my friends and colleagues share on Facebook and Twitter.

I could write a whole column (and perhaps will) about the conversation between my father and me; I love hearing his opinions and comparing our perspectives.

In this case, I thought about it just now as I sat down to write this story. I realized that, in choosing this week’s 3 Great Stories, I had somewhat followed both of our models of media consumption.

In classic new-media fashion, I was tipped last week to a thought-provoking article about John F. Kennedy, written in a magazine I had never previously read: The New Statesman. I enjoyed the article and have included it in the selections below.

But then, based on my enjoyment of the source, I clicked on a link to another column and — similarly to my dad’s reasoning — began reading numerous articles I would have missed had I not visited the site and looked around. I now subscribe to the feed of The New Statesman — an offbeat choice, by the way, in that it is a English magazine that can often be very Brit-specific in its tone and issues. I happened to enjoy the intellectual and nuanced style of writing, appreciating the writers’ abilities to take singular issues and make universal points.

Call it a meld of old- and new-world media consumption. Both mentalities have their merits, and in this case they made for a delightful hour of reading and learning.

The Camelot delusion: John F. Kennedy’s legacy 50 years on (8/15/13, The New Statesman): This was the article that got me hooked. Naturally, it is the one piece from this UK magazine that deals with American affairs.

And, of course, it delves into one of the more widely discussed topics among U.S. historians: the success, failure, and legacy of the JFK presidency.

Nearly a half-century removed from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, historians disagree almost as staunchly on his legacy as they do his murder. Some describe him as a well-meaning crusader who lit the match for greater victories that came after his death. Others call him vastly overrated, a president whose tangible successes never matched his oratory skills and celebrity.

I enjoyed this take on JFK from David Runciman, in which he examines the arguments of several historians and critics while offering his own. He approaches the subject with a distinct opinion but respect for all sides — a novel and appreciated way of writing during this age of histrionics and hemming to one side of an issue.

Businesses seek profit and sportsmen chase victory, but there’s still hope for morality (8/15/13, The New Statesman): When it comes to nuanced views, this piece by Ed Smith is delightful.

It is also dipped in heavy layers of English sport, so beware going in that you will — as I did — face references to an apparently huge cricket controversy that may not make any sense to the American sports fan.

If you can get past that, you will probably enjoy the piece.

Smith’s basic premise about sports is an absorbing one: essentially, he posits, we tend to differ in the way we apply our moral values to the field of sport, namely when it comes to cheating. He then bridges into how those feelings also apply in the broader context of the law.

He applies it to a cricketer, but one could certainly have the same discussion about American sports. Athletes “break the rules” all the time, but only in certain cases do we hear a whole lot of outrage. Recent and notable rule-breaker Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M football star who got paid $7,500 to sign autographs, is being hailed in some circles as a hero right now for “standing up” to the NCAA”s draconian laws prohibiting their athletes from making money.

Our blurred lines of morality continue in the games themselves. Many thumb our noses at “flopping” in basketball and hockey, yet many admire Michael Jordan for cheating — and openly admitting to it — in one of his biggest shots as a pro. Check out the knowing smiley-face from Jordan’s then-coach, Phil Jackson, when addressing Jordan’s famous push-off in the 1998 NBA Finals:

It’s pretty fascinating, actually.

Our news is dominated by people in expensive suits, shouting at each other (8/12/13, The New Statesman): Speaking of issues that cross international lines, most followers of U.S. politics will read this article with knowing empathy.

I should mention, before I address her article, that I do not know much about the background of the author, Laurie Penny. She took a beating in the comments of this piece for her own loudness and viewpoints, and I honestly have not read any of her other work.

But I definitely appreciated what she wrote here.

Penny bemoans the way in which televised political discourse has devolved into sound-bite scrapping. As she writes, “Do we really debate issues any more, or do we just shout at each other from opposing trenches?”

She also describes some cringe-worthy behind-the-scenes moments at TV debates that ring way too true, particularly this paragraph:

My least favourite part of any TV debate is the moment you step off the shiny set and back into the real world, when you have to make friendly small talk with the person you were “debating”, as sound engineers go through the delicate process of removing the radio microphones without ransacking your underwear. It goes beyond professional politeness to an exchange of secret smiles, an understanding that we may pretend to hate each other on screen, but we’re all friends really, when the cameras are off. We’re part of the same media elite, we run in the same circles and we’re playing the same game.

I do not know much about her politics, but I appreciate Penny’s effort to make a call for nuance. In fact, looking back, I enjoyed The New Statesman so much mainly because of its nuance. Every article I read was thoughtful and thorough; the writers, while certainly opinionated, expressed those opinions in ways that — I idealistically hope — will elevate the discussion.


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

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