Roadmap

published 20 May 2013
Photo: 
chekov

I'm now almost 3 weeks into my crazy ambitious year-long publishing experiment. The mainline - my personal narrative - is well up and running with 5 installments published.  It will continue throughout the rest of the year with one new installment each week. Just 49 weeks to go!

Last week I published, in two parts, the introduction to my theoretical material. That material will be factored out from the main narrative. I will produce an update to that theoretical work every 2 weeks or so.  The theoretical material will, however, be slightly less regular in the first few months, because it makes more sense to introduce it alongside the personal stories that led me to arrive at the general conclusions. Theory takes longer to write and prepare as it requires more precision in language and clarity of thought than anecdotal stuff and, although I have already written most of the drafts, it always takes longer than you expect to get them ready for publication.

In my last post, I described how Noam Chomsky had such an influence on my thinking after seeing the documentary about him - Manufacturing Consent. That brings me to the introduction of the second sideline thread that I'll be publishing here over the course of the year.

Media Analysis

Journalism was always something that I was interested in. My father was a journalist and some of my earliest memories are of wandering around the newsrooms of Independent Newspapers on Abbey St. in Dublin, with the sounds of typewriters clacking away, echoing about the large offices, while he worked to meet a deadline. Many of his friends were also journalists and I have nothing but fond memories of the time that I spent in their world. He died in a plane crash together with several of his closest journalist friends, on the 11th of November 1984, shortly after my 11th birthday.

Journalistic Props My father presses myself and 3 of my brothers into service for an Evening Herald Photoshoot, outside Independent Newspapers Offices on Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 6 Jun 1984 image: Evening Herald

My personal connection with the world of journalism made Chomsky's systemic explanation of the forces that act on the media all the more compelling to me - it explained the biases that I could clearly see in its output but didn't point the finger at the personal failings of lazy or stupid journalists, as many superficial critiques of media output do. In any case, viewing Manufacturing Consent gave me a framework through which I could understand the failings of the media. My ongoing interest in this area eventually turned into a sideline career as a media analyst and occasional journalist. The high-point of this side-career was between 2006 and 2008, when I wrote a regular column for Vincent Browne's Village magazine in which I analysed the output of the Irish newspaper industry and the factors influencing it, with particular focus on where the stories diverged from reality. Before that I produced a semi-regular stream of articles and book chapters which analysed media coverage on particular issues.

In order to better understand how the media worked as a system, over the years, I did various bits of freelance and volunteer work in as wide a range of media areas as I could. I tried my hand at video-camera work, video-editing, script-writing, radio presenting, editing journals and magazines, layout and design of print publications, delivering lectures to journalism students as well as writing plain journalistic articles. Due to my work in political campaigns I also became the subject of media coverage from time to time. Finally, I was occasionally invited onto radio and television shows as a pundit to give my views on some issue of the day or other.  So, I have had a fairly rounded experience of how the media works although I have never really relied upon it for the bulk of my income, so my perspective is a little skewed compared to most practitioners.

At about the same time as I withdrew from political activism, I also withdrew from media work. The main reason was that I needed the time and space to think about things analytically, which is really hard to do when you are watching a news cycle that is fast-moving and dominated by trivial ephemera.

Anyway, I'm now going to republish as much of that old material as I can find. That will include all of the articles that I published over the last 18 years as well as various bits of video that I made and some snippets of the media coverage that I attracted over the years. I'll accompany these republished articles with brief comments which provide a little bit of context. I'll also do some critical analysis to see if my analyses turned out to be accurate with the benefit of hindsight. Much of this stuff is scattered around the place at the moment, and I scarcely remember what I wrote in some of the older articles, so it will be interesting, for me at least, to gather it all together and to see how it stands up. My opinions about a lot of stuff changed over the years, so it is possible that some of this old stuff might make me cringe. On the other hand, I always tried to be measured and fair in published material, so I hope that at least some of it stands the test of time, even with the merciless benefit of retrospective vision. As somebody who has criticised the output of others in the past, I probably deserve to subject myself to a bit of my own medicine anyway.

I'm going to separate these republished articles out from the mainline of the narrative into their own section. They will form the second of the sideline threads that will run alongside the main narrative over the course of the year. I'll publish a couple of them each week, sometimes more, sometimes less, and I'll try to publish them in chronological order of when they first appeared. The first one will be published next week and they will keep on coming until they're finished.

I still have one more sideline thread of themed material to introduce - I need to advance the main narrative a little bit before I can introduce that. But, I should get there by the middle of June. This means that I'll be increasing the frequency with which I publish new material.

Technical Update

I was planning on introducing a few new technical features over the last week, but have been held up a bit by issues with the server. The PHP binary lacked opcode caching and, without that, things get really slow when I introduce fancy features. I have now got around it by compiling my own PHP binary, but it took a while. With that out of the way, this week I will restart adding new technical features and, before too long, the site will expand from a blog into a fuller-featured website with separate streams of themed material and various other bells and whistles. Watch this space.

Reader Feedback

Finally, a word of thanks to everybody who has contacted me with feedback. So far it's all been positive - yay! Writing and publishing all of this stuff is a lot of work and is emotionally draining, so the kind words that I've received are really important in terms of keeping my enthusiasm and energy up. One thing that I'm really pleased about is the broadness of the audience - from established scientists to young squatters. One of the reasons for me choosing to tell my story in this format is to try to reach outside of the audiences who normally read political / scientific / theoretical material and I'm really happy that it seems to be working so far. I had better not make a balls of it now...

Comments (6)

Cathal in Cork

Great stuff Chekov, I'm really enjoying this. And I really like the publishing method - it's like following a TV show:-)

chekov's picture
chekov

The next episode will appear on Thursday. In the meantime, I'm adding a few new tech features. I've added links to printable and pdf versions of the articles as well as a link to follow updates by email.

SR

Enjoying the read so far and know that there are regular updates is definitely very enticing. I've started checking multiple times a day in case something is new so the email updates is a welcome addition! I do however have one request / suggestion: A mobile version of the site! It's currently not particularly enjoyable to read on a phone without using an RSS reader.

Anonymous

You read my mind! Thanks for the PDfs.

chekov's picture
chekov

I haven't looked into a mobile version, but I will have a look and see what I can do - it may take a while though as I'm not sure what exactly is the best way to do it. The pdfs are a little flaky at the moment and not all that pretty, I'll work on improving them when I get a chance - there's a better solution out there but it takes a fair bit of set up.

ronan

I read a theory once that PHP's caching problems are caused by Zend's leadership of the project. Since Zend make their money selling optimised PHP hosting, they have kept all their proprietary caching technology out of the mainstream, thus condemning the peasants to poor performance.

I know Facebook have contributed some caching solutions to PHP including one solution that will compile your PHP to C++. As the saying goes, now you have two problems.

Anyway, well done on the writing Chekov, I'm really enjoying following your retrospective journey.