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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can Tech Startups Do Journalism?, by Alyssa Bereznak, The Ringer

The startup publication boom has moved dizzyingly fast, a testament to both the potential and disposability of a well-funded editorial vision. In 2014, the e-book subscription service Oyster launched a website that fashioned itself after classic literary periodicals both in aesthetic and name, and featured writing from well-known writers like The Awl’s Choire Sicha. Its editorial director, Kevin Nguyen, even formed an author advisory board (made up of writers Megan Abbott, Lauren Oliver, and Roxane Gay) that was reportedly intended to “discuss the future of digital publishing.” Less than a year later, Google acqui-hired most of the company’s employees, Oyster “sunsetted” (translation: closed) its service, and the enjoyable Oyster Review was no more. In November 2015, the razor-delivery startup Dollar Shave Club — which was acquired by Unilever a year later — launched its men’s lifestyle destination, MEL, as a twice-a-week newsletter. It has grown into an online magazine on Medium that’s helmed by a handful of crafty, energetic editors and writers. The project has run everything from weed-infused-food reviews to a male supermodel’s first-person account of escaping a vegetarian cult. With the help of Snapchat last year, a sociologist named Nathan Jurgenson, who had formerly worked as a researcher for the company, introduced Real Life. The scholarly website publishes observant “essays, arguments, and narratives about living with technology,” with esoteric headlines like “Object Lessons” or “Fiber Optics.” Its original editorial staff included Sarah Nicole Prickett and New Inquiry editor Rob Horning.

Meanwhile, other startups are taking content into their own hands, using editorial formats as direct brand extensions. Earlier this year, Airbnb teamed with Hearst to launch a magazine whose coverage is shaped by anonymous user data collected by the company. This spring, menstrual-disc startup Flex sent customers a surprise in the mail with The Fixx, a handbook-sized publication that focuses on women’s lifestyle, health, and body positivity. In a letter at the front of the book, the company’s CEO introduced herself as the magazine’s editor-in-chief. In addition to its travel podcast, Airplane Mode, the luggage startup Away has started a quarterly travel magazine called Here. You can get an issue for $10, or with the purchase of a suitcase. The founders of retail startup Of a Kind — which was purchased by Bed Bath & Beyond in 2015 — regularly host well-known writers like Jon Caramanica or Sloane Crosley on their podcast and publish a weekly recommendations newsletter that includes at least one product from its site. Gwyneth Paltrow’s self-proclaimed “contextual commerce platform,” Goop, partnered with Condé Nast to launch a print magazine of the same name this month. The Wing, a women-only coworking space cofounded by Audrey Gelman, is fielding submissions for its forthcoming female-focused magazine, No Man’s Land. The biannual print publication will be headed by Deidre Dyer, a former Fader style editor who now freelances as a branded content creator, and managed by Who? Weekly podcaster Lindsey Weber, formerly of MEL and Vulture.

How Algorithms Are Transforming Artistic Creativity, by Ed Finn, Aeon

Why was the loss so upsetting to so many? Not because chess is complicated, per se – calculating differential equations is complicated, and we are happy to cede the work to computers – but because chess is creative. We talk about the personality, the aesthetics of chess greats such as Kasparov and Bobby Fischer, seeing a ‘style of play’ in the manipulation of pieces on a grid. Chess was a foil, a plane of endeavour, for storytellers as diverse as Vladimir Nabokov and Satyajit Ray, and we celebrate its grandmasters as remarkable synthesisers of logic and creativity. It was particularly galling, then, for Kasparov to lose to a machine based not on its creativity but its efficiency at analysing billions of possible moves. Deep Blue wasn’t really intelligent at all, but it was very good at avoiding mistakes in chess. One might argue that its victory not only knocked humanity down a peg but demonstrated that chess itself is not, or does not have to be, the aesthetic space we imagined it.

And yet Kasparov, after having lost to what he later called ‘a $10 million alarm clock’, continued to play against machines, and to reflect on the consequences of computation for the game of kings. And not just against them: for the past two decades, Kasparov has been exploring an idea he calls ‘Advanced Chess’, where humans collaborate with computer chess programs against other hybrid teams, sometimes called ‘Centaurs’. The humans maintain strategic control of the game while automating the memorisation and basic calculation on which great chess depends.

The Last London By Iain Sinclair Review – An Elegy For A City Now Lost, by Jon Day, The Guardian

But above all Sinclair has always been a collaborator, standing against the co-option of space and narrative by capital and grand political visionaries. Underpinning all his work is a vision of the commons, describing both the places we inhabit and the stories we are allowed to tell, which are out there in the world, waiting to be shared. It’s sad to think that London will, of course, go on without him.

Jennifer Egan's 'Manhattan Beach' Is A Gorgeous Tribute To NYC And Its Seaport, by Maureen Corrigan, NPR

Manhattan Beach is a big gorgeous tribute to New York City and its seaport. In drawing from the classic catalog of New York stories, Manhattan Beach also takes its place among them.

Why 'Why Buddhism Is True' Is True, by Adam Frank, NPR

One of the best parts of Wright's book is its realism. No matter how many books you read on Buddhist insights into human beings, they won't mean much unless you find yourself a regular practice. It's the practice that counts. It's the practice that slowly lets you see the delusion in our constant stream of desires and aversions. That is, after all, why they call it practice. Wright does an excellent job of unpacking this reality for his readers, demonstrating again and again how contemplative practice can lead to understanding and how understanding can lead to an important kind of freedom.