‘Believe the Autocrat’

Photo by gdbrekke

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one.

At New York Review of Books, a frightening must-read essay by Masha Gessen on what it’s like to live in an autocracy, having lived in and reported from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

A Letter From My Daughters, and a Letter to Myself

Photo via hillaryclinton

It’s shortly after 5 am PT. In the other room, my daughters, already awake, are writing a letter to Hillary Clinton, thanking her for inspiring them and millions of others. I am in the dining room, staring at apoplectic headlines from publications that I trust, knowing that millions of Americans in other cities don’t read or believe the same words.

I live in a city that’s booming economically, and nearly everyone in my peer group — both in my city and in my industry — supported Hillary Clinton. We fretted about the disastrous consequences of a Trump victory, but perhaps I still did not take it seriously, with polls putting the odds of victory at 70%. I shared Facebook posts and tweets and expected that everything would work out okay. The polls favored Hillary, and so did common sense.

As it turns out, not even common sense is guaranteed in America. Continue reading “A Letter From My Daughters, and a Letter to Myself”

‘Slack Creep’ Is Real. Here’s How Your Company Can Avoid It

Berenstain Bears Slack
Image via Christa Mrgan (@antichrista)

I gave a brief talk about Slack at our company meetup this year, but I thought it would be helpful to expand on this problem and share it publicly.


Slack (their open letter strategy notwithstanding) is one of the truly great work tools we’ve embraced inside Automattic. We’re a distributed company, which means there is no office and everyone works “remote” (we hate that word) from spots all around the world — 500+ employees across more than 50 countries.

Having real-time chat adds an important level of intimacy and energy to our daily work, and it makes it easier than ever for our teams to quickly discuss projects and ideas. Slack also adds some very smart layers of fun (GIFs, emoji, thoughtful messaging and copy) to differentiate itself from the cold, sterile world of work productivity.

But. Slack has its limits.

Despite what its marketing campaign suggests, Slack is not a replacement for email. Its usefulness hinges on employees knowing the difference between what’s appropriate for real-time chat, and what needs to be communicated in a more timeless forum. Slack can’t do everything, and teams should discuss best practices for using it. Continue reading “‘Slack Creep’ Is Real. Here’s How Your Company Can Avoid It”

Membership, Paywalls, and Funding Journalism Without a Football Phone — Longreads Community

In the 1980s, Sports Illustrated landed on a surefire way to drive subscriptions to its magazine. A high-quality print product? Top-notch journalism? Yeah, yeah, sure — probably all of the above. But as a child sitting in front of my television every afternoon, what really sold me — and then by my constant pleading, sold […]

via Membership, Paywalls, and Funding Journalism Without a Football Phone — Longreads Community

What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money

Over at Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen has written an interesting breakdown of how Medium wooed five different publishers over to its platform, and how it’s going so far. Unfortunately (not Laura’s fault; blame the NDAs!), it’s missing a critical piece of the wooing, which is a financial breakdown of what each of them might have been promised. Continue reading “What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money”

‘If You Bet Against Text, You Will Lose’

From the weekend reading file: I love Tim Carmody’s response to a Facebook executive’s prediction that “In five years time Facebook ‘will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video.'”

Video and audio have never threatened text and images for dominance on the internet, despite Facebook’s best efforts. Even if we set aside the high production costs (we can assume it will get cheaper over time), good video and audio are still more difficult to produce, because both require the right physical conditions to produce them. Smartphones certainly made it easier to shoot video — the rise of the selfie and novelty entertainment like face-swapping have helped, too — but I am writing this blog post at a place and time that’s inhospitable to creating video or audio. It’s the same reason why the phone call began to die off just as open office plans were embraced: you now have to sneak into a stairwell, hallway or conference room in order to call someone in private. Texting became more convenient.

A social network alone — even one as powerful as Facebook — can’t make video the dominant form of communication. The devices we use and the physical world where we live and work will have to change in order for audio or video to truly take over.

The Truth About Working from Home

I spoke with PSFK Labs about Automattic‘s “distributed” work model — at 430+ employees, we’re one of the world’s largest companies where everyone works from home (or anywhere they please).

There are pros and cons to any work situation. How a company performs depends a lot on who it hires, how those people get along, how they communicate, and how teams are structured to make it as easy as possible to be productive.

We can’t control for those factors, but the simple fact about distributed work is that people can be more productive when they don’t have to commute anywhere. Cutting commute times is better for employees, it’s better for companies to cultivate talent around the world, it’s better for families, and it’s better for our cities to reduce gridlock. I would love to see local governments — and the next president — embrace more policies that encourage companies to “go distributed.”

Photo: cdisegna

Instructors and Community Make a Difference

WARNING, PEOPLE: The following is an exercise testimonial.

A year and a half ago I was chatting with my sister in law about starting to exercise again. And by “again,” I mean I don’t think I had worked out regularly in more than 15 years.

Continue reading “Instructors and Community Make a Difference”

In Praise of Public Pitching

I spoke with Jason Fagone and Ted Genoways about the art of pitching in public.


I’ve always been fascinated by how narrative journalism gets commissioned, reported, and published–but the most perplexing part of the entire system is the continued power imbalance between writers and publishers.

This imbalance persists in spite of the internet “democratizing” publishing. More digital publishers are embracing feature writing, but the process behind the scenes feels stuck in the past–a time-consuming marathon of unanswered emails and rejection.

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