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Wednesday, 08 August 2018


The tough thing with journalism in this country is that objective reporting has been confused with "two-sides" reporting. Objective reporting is not afraid of reporting the facts as they are found. Two-sides journalism pretends to be "balanced" by never wanting to appear to take sides, no matter the facts. Sometimes the truth is controversial and your advertisers don't like it, but a journalist's job is to report it regardless.

I can't remember if it has ever come up on these pages, but are you familiar with "Ruins of Detroit" photo collections? I think there used to be (maybe there still are) tour guides who take you to the various abandoned buildings in old Detroit so you could photograph them. I used to hear the term "Ruins Porn", not sure if it is still in vogue.

Documenting the collapse, I guess, which sounds like a sci-fi film plot. There are friends of mine who think that the original Robocop movie was a documentary.

Correction: economists walk out of bad movies and bad meals not because they have "internalized" the sunk cost fallacy but because they have learned from the mistakes of the sunk cost fallacy. (Or as the article puts it, they have "absorbed the lessons of the sunk-cost fallacy.")

Mike wrote, "Cynics will say that's just the ideal of journalism, not something journalism always actually achieves."

I'm a cynic. The job of newspapers, television and digital media is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers and too many use sensational and inaccurate reporting to do so. A small number strive to develop lasting audiences through high-quality and truthful Journalism.

On The Media has a periodic feature titled, "Breaking News Consumer's Handbook" which addresses some of the predictable excesses of Breaking News journalism.


""Sunk-cost thinking," as you probably know, "tells us to stick with a bad investment because of the money we have already lost on it;"

I didn't know. I always thought it was the opposite. The money is lost. Move along. Forget about it. Don't regret. Don‘t repeat your mistake. Do not throw good money after bad money. Consider any residual value as a gift from heaven.

As a reporter I was sent off to cover the great Yellowstone fires of 1988, which burned an area about twice as large as the Mendocino complex in California that's burning right now, and I gotta tell you, the power of a huge fire is incredible. But the power of anecdote makes you feel good about a fawn licking a firefighter when in fact hundreds or thousands of fawns are probably dead. "If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics." (Josef Stalin.)

The whole thing with journalism and numbers is something that's interested me all of my life, since very few journalists and very few ordinary people really know anything about statistics or probability. That's why baseball struggled through a century or so depending on managers whose main talent was spitting large amounts of tobacco juice rather than looking at numbers, until the Athletics won 20 games in a row using unwanted players and the Red Sox finally won a pennant by using numbers. Now baseball uses numbers.

As a longtime media guy, I sometimes despair about the way the world works, because so much of it leans on the media, and the media operates on the basis of anecdote, rumor and myth. In the entire history of mankind, we've never been safer from crime, from disease, from bad food, from accident, from economic insecurity, as we are in the US and worldwide right now. And yet we in the US elected Donald Trump based on fear. It gives me an ice cream headache thinking about it.

Re photo #11, it's a viewpoint, not an overpass. I took a photo from there of a clearing spring storm in 1974, on my very last roll of Kodachrome II. The next day, El Capitan decided to shed tons of ice (deposited by the storm) from its top as we were roping up for a short climb at its base. ("Run away! Run away!", as King Arthur said.)

I read that article "The Lying Mind" and shared it around as much as I could. I thought it was really good. Thanks for sharing it more. We need to know this stuff. I also was awed by the picture stories. I lived in California a long time, makes me sad.

I loved the orphaned faun with its Highway Patrolman rescuer, and the singed-whiskered kitten, but these are clearly anecdotes. Where are the people displaced by the fires? The visual appeal of the flames licking around structures and trees and the fact that residents were evacuated early and driven far from the scene if possible is probably the cause of the omission, but if the story lasts another several weeks, we need to see and hear them as well. Perhaps when there are no more live flames and low passes by helos and firebombers, this will happen.

Errol Morris: "False beliefs adhere to photographs like flies to flypaper."

The rest, if anyone wants it, is at https://kottke.org/18/08/from-errol-morris-a-list-of-10-things-you-should-know-about-truth-photography

On this day a hundred years ago the Battle of Amiens commenced. It’s fortunate the economists weren’t in charge at that time as I would think most people, on either side, would have viewed WW1 as unwinnable but in fact the battle broke the German army’s morale and the Armistice was signed a hundred days later.
I think the concept of an unwinnable war may be influenced by “Vietnam” which was always (in my view at the time) unwinnable by the US but of course was won by North Vietnam.

I should have added https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/08/by-jove-the-wars-coming-to-an-end-battle-of-amiens-remembered

What I love are the trees returning, growing in, over and under the ruins in Russia. There is hope!

Small clarification, Mike. That is not an overpass but a low stone wall at the edge of the parking lot at a location called “Tunnel View.” As you exit a tunnel in your vehicle, you are presented with the famous view Adams recorded. The parking lot is just on the left as you leave the tunnel. Photographers, including me, stand at the stone wall and make their own versions of Adams famous subject matter. Always imitated, never matched.

"In the Wildfire portfolio, note especially photo #11. That's the overpass from which Ansel Adams took his famous picture "Clearing Winter Storm, 1935."

Drat, ever the pedant. Not an overpass, the Tunnel View Overlook, parking adjacent to the east end of the tunnel on the Wawona Road.

One may also use long lenses from this overlook. \;~)>

Photograph 11 is why I find Ansel Adams difficult now. His pictures (many of them, and certainly 'clearing winter storm') portray what looks like a landscape without human intervention. But just out of the frame is the road from which he took the picture snd which, in fact, runs right through this apparently-natural landscape. I find it hard not to see the pictures as beautiful lies: I think I'd rather see the truth.

Of course they are very fine photographs, nonetheless.

Re Photo #11, that's not an overpass - it's a parking area just beyond the lower end of a tunnel that you drive through on your way to Yosemite Valley. At any given time (except perhaps night) there is an army of photographers snapping away from that location. Fortunately, Ansel's original tripod holes were not preserved, or you'd have photographers queueing up for miles to reuse them.

You're absolutely right about good journalism and good photojournalism, Mike. It's what social scientists sometimes call 'triangulating', that is, putting together any one account or image with all the other information and the other things going on, and so making for a richer and deeper understanding. It all takes a lot of work, of course, and work of a more careful sort than that which goes into mere publicity or advertising, whether of a product or a viewpoint.

Where I am in California the smoke from the Yosemite has filled the sky most days except for the occasional day where the wind blows the clear lake / Mendicino complex fire this way. Yosemite is 100 miles to the east and the Mendicino fire is 110 miles to the northwest. Even at a 100 mile remove it's kind of apocalyptic when the sky goes orange

This is very interesting. I haven't read the Atlantic Article, but as someone who makes a living from investments, I'm well aware of the sunk-cost fallacy. Many investors hold on to their losers (some even double down) while their loses increase, wishing that they'll come back and turn into winners. They usually don't. The guys who make money take emotion out of it and cut their loses early.

Here's my sunk-cost fallacy applied to photo: About five years ago I signed up for a weeklong workshop at the Maine Media Workshops. I probably spent about $1500 for it. The instructor was very good and the subject - experimental printmaking - particularly interested me. However, the workshop's computers were Apple with no PCs and the workshop assistant was unpleasant and patronizing. I just couldn't get used to the computers and I wasn't going to put up with the poor atmosphere, so I threw in the towel on my costs and left at the end of the second day. I was old enough to know that it was time to cut my loses; $1500 was nothing compared to leaving that workshop and salvaging the rest of my week.

Applying a "sunk cost" analysis to a bad restaurant meal shows in fact how far we are estranged from reality today, let alone our future selves.
We eat, let it be remembered, for calories, proteins and other necessary nutrients. Finishing the meal will supply same. Walking out because it is not enjoyable means we've come to see it as entertainment, which is probably why so many people do it to excess...

Let's see...... that was about eight and a half years ago, and I can well remember the note Harlan sent you for the $25. But I couldn't for the life of me remember the video rant.

A lot of today’s photojournalism needs a little bias correction. The persistent white european vision with a colonialist aftertaste of remote parts of the world is commonplace and needs urgently alternative points of view.

You have to enjoy Harlan. He could not talk for two minutes without spitting and ranting about something or other. I’m surprised he lived that long.

My favorite Ellison Video is actually an audio... he's describing to Robin Williams what being a new and struggling writer was all about, in New York, in the late fifties and early sixties, getting a penny or two a word, in Pulp Magazines... and a nice spoken portrait of L. Ron Hubbard.

Ooops... the URL on that is <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9AGVARpqdk&t=23s>

Ohhh, HArlan Ellison. He's the BEST. I LOVE that clip. He is SO enraged he almost cant keep up with the flow of his own thoughts. BUT, through it all, he's a consummate story teller - the mannerisms, the pacing, everything. Even that moment when it looks like he's done, sort of adjusts his shirt cuff, and then dives back in. Just awesome!
Those last couple lines, too: "how about I come burn your offices down?"

Plus, he's totally right.

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