An elegy for a great publication—too good for this bad internet.

From Gephi, here.

I coded my first website in a middle school fever dream because I just loved anime and environmentalism so. goddamn. much. We didn’t yet have the word to blog, but that’s what I did. I wrote essays about corporate greed and Card Captor Sakura and there was even a masthead with my friends’ pen names and silly quotes. The essays were (are, actually, because the site still exists) terrible; it wasn’t much, but it was home.

So, I got very sad today reading about The Awl. I came to that glorious blog by reading its coverage of the inglorious struggle…


All photos from the European Space Agency: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images

The following is a talk that I gave at Oberlin College on November 7, 2017 after being invited by the staff of Wilder Voice, Oberlin’s magazine for long-form journalism and creative nonfiction. Some of the points I made here, I’ve made elsewhere on the web, most notably at Quartz. Especially here & here.

Hi everyone. Thank you Maxwell, Olivia, Lydia, and the whole Wilder Voice staff for the invitation to come out here, and thank you all for being here. My name is John West. I am a narrative technologist at the MIT Media Lab, which means that I use…


A lesson from the media coverage of the Trump campaign

The headline of a recent, thought-provoking piece by Jamelle Bouie — Slate’s senior political correspondent — is absolutely correct. “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter,” it reads. The problem comes later, in the second sentence of the subhead: “People voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes. They don’t deserve your empathy.”

Of Trump’s supporters, Bouie writes, correctly, that “[w]hether Trump’s election reveals an ‘inherent malice’ in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency.” …


I haven’t read Julia Cagé’s book Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy, but it sounds right up my alley. I think I’d enjoy it, and not simply because Serious Media Thinkers (which, alas, I am not) have panned it. Frederic Filloux has faint praise in front and a knife in the back: “While she opens interesting avenues to explore innovative media business models, her work is unfortunately filled with flaws and sometimes willfully disconnected from reality.” Jeff Jarvis is saltier: “Good fucking luck with that.” The Neiman Lab’s Twitter account posted — approvingly, I assume — Jarvis’s sharp-elbowed critique…


My first year at Oberlin, my friends and I had a little ritual. Every Friday, we’d pick up a crisp copy of the OBERLIN REVIEW, open it to “The Review Security Notebook,” and look for signs of ourselves.

8:18 p.m. Officers and the Oberlin Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at Dascomb Hall. The cause of the alarm was found to be smoke from a dirty stove top. The alarm was reset.

We’d laugh and say, “When is Margaret going to learn how to cook?” before cutting out the notice and pinning it to the cork board. It started…


How Jonathan Chait trolled the Internet for fun and profit

I wish the Internet came with a manual. I wish my parents had sat me down as a lad and told me, “John, this is when you should argue in good faith; this is when you should hold your tongue; and this is when you should just troll.” Of course the Internet is the Wild West, and my parents maybe knew how to use AOL when I was growing up, so, when New York Magazine let Jonathan Chait’s 5,000 words of #content slide onto the Internet, I had absolutely no idea what to do.

I confess my first impulse was…


How do we engage with reactionary movements?

On the 17th of December in 1773, George Hewes smeared coal dust on his face, dressed up as an Indian, and threw tea into Boston Harbor. “I have never gotten over,” writes Garret Keizer in Harper’s, “the notion that the history of the United States begins with an act of masquerade.” I haven’t, either: men dressed as Mohawks, wielding hatchets, shouting huzzahs and storming ships.

The earnestness — the almost-innocence — of that scene is mirrored in those today who call themselves Tea Partiers, who don tricorn hats and drape them with tea bags. …


Really.

This story starts in Bangladesh on a Wednesday morning. It was early—say 8:56—on April 24, 2013. There were 3,000-odd people crammed into an eight-story building called Rena Plaza. One minute later, Rena Plaza ceased to function as a building should, and where that building should have been, there was a mound of rubble and 1,129 dead bodies.

The story starts here, but I’m not going to write about Bangladeshi labor laws or the tragedy of that day. I’m not going to write about how our contemporary moment, the zenith of this thing we call capitalism, means that we had and…

John West

I am the lead technologist in the Wall Street Journal’s R&D lab. Before that, I worked at Cortico, the MIT Media Lab, and Quartz.

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