Saturday, May 28, 2011

Comics journalism: nuanced reporting in primary colors


I had a chance at the Knight Journalism Fellowships program this week to see Dan Archer pitch his ideas about how comics journalism can help sort out and explain the most complex topics. Human trafficking? Bear Stearns? Economic meltdown?

I’m excited to see where his work goes in the future, when he plans to combine the simplicity and bright colored comics format with multimedia, imbedded content and mobile delivery.

Hear Dan talk about his ambitions in this video interview and read more at his site here.

More about Howard

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barack Obama and the welcomed embrace of complexity

President Obama continues to impresses not only with intelligence and eloquence but also his willingness to resist political expediency in pursuit of genuine understanding. Rather than painting the world in the simpleminded black-and-white of a Reagan (Evil Empire) or GWB (Axis of Evil), the president embraces the complexity of the world as it really exists.

In other words, he’s dealing with issues like a grown-up. Even better: he’s treating the rest of us like adults, as well, like citizens capable of juggling conflicting facts, balancing competing interests and spending some time thinking about things on our way to reaching conclusions.

You ought to have a look at this short piece by James Fallows on this subject. As Fallows says in his headline: It’s Complicated.

Whether addressing race in Philadelphia, military force in Oslo or Afghanistan at West Point, Obama has spoken with nuance and subtlety unseen on America’s presidential stage in my lifetime. Presidents have sometimes acted with nuance, but I don’t remember others walking us through the process.

Conventional wisdom holds that voters can’t handle complexity, that we need to be patronized or lied to with explanations identifying convenient bad guys and simple choices of right and wrong. But how does that work in Libya, for example, where the consequences of intervention must balance unwanted military entanglement against the lives of innocents and America’s ideals of democracy?

“The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and still act,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said. I'd argue that the ability to handle complex, often contradictory facts—and still act—is likewise a rare attribute.

Jacques Barzun described Michel de Montaigne as “multilinear and collectivist,” a description I would be proud to earn. Whether or not I live up to that, I am proud to have a president who can, one who demonstrates his faith in the rest of us by leading intelligent discussions that reflect it.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

On the eve of the Third Annual Redwing Games


The John Deere is ready for tractor-bucket basketball, the grounds have been mowed for cross-country croquet and the cooks (well, actually just one cook, Barb) have been in a frenzy of preparation. The forecast calls for perfect competition weather, and we anticipate that records could fall tomorrow. Teams, presumably, are carbo-loading tonight.

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If the world is going to end tomorrow I am mighty glad to be here today.

Taken at Redwing Ranch

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Why I turned off the television and went offline after the president's remarks last night.

We turned off the television as soon as the president finished his address last night. The news was so significant, and yet so nuanced, that I could not bear to watch and listen to the talking heads spinning out nonsense — as if any of them had any notion what this really means, either in terms of the past or the future.

Instead I wanted to think about it myself, to sort out my own emotions and reactions. I was glad they'd found him, not sad they'd killed him. I knew it wouldn't bring an end to the threat of Al Qaida or other terrorists, but also knew it was both symbolically and operationally important. I knew it couldn't erase the pain of people who'd lost loved ones or been especially traumatized by September 11, but I also know that the sense of justice is hard-wired into humans and still animates our tribal response to events.

I did read some news this morning (links below), and while some was fascinating in amplifying and describing a truly remarkable undertaking, in general I found little or nothing that helped me sort out the complexities I feel.

And that seems fine to me. Not all things are meant to be completely understood or simply parsed — at least not by me. I've learned over my years that ambiguity is as powerful as certainty, and more often accurate.

The good and the bad are equally strong, reverse sides of the same coin. Life is one coin.


Two especially fascinating stories:

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