Shuttered

When I suggested a few weeks ago that journalists who write need to get decent photographic equipment as part of the process of becoming journalists who write, record audio, and shoot video, I never expected that a newspaper would lay off its entire photography staff. The Chicago Sun-Times, which has a checkered ownership history and, like most papers, dire financials after drinking cream for most of its existence, laid off 20 full-time staff photographers plus part-timers and others in the department on May 30.

The managers told the photographic staff that it would be relying more on video in the future, which is one of the weirdest arguments one could make. What they really mean is that word-based reporters will be expected to shoot pictures and video. They'll go through training in "iPhone photography basics."

In my essay, I discussed the necessity for freelance writers to become more versatile. It's not trivial to shoot a good picture or video, but it's also possible to learn to shoot competently, and it's more likely that a freelancer with varied skills will get assignments and make more money from nearly the same investment of time. And shooting with an iPhone doesn't provide the technical underpinnings to get a good photo in a broad range of conditions, especially indoors.

The Chicago Sun-Times is using the same thinking in laying off photographers that newspapers used previously in reducing the number of comics they ran. They are taking one of the few reasons that people subscribe to a paper or buy a single issue and getting rid of it.

Editor and Publisher

The cow says Moogazine.

You may have already heard the news: I've purchased The Magazine from Marco. This is a great day in my professional life, as The Magazine is one of the very best things I've ever worked on. This is partly because Marco gave me an enormous amount of freedom in editing it, and partly because I get to work so closey with writers on their work.

I love writing, and have appreciated all the time and effort my editors have and continue to put into making my words work in the right order. It's great to work with both new writers and experienced ones to try to find the sculpture inside the block of marble.

It's been great working with Marco, who is an exceptionally decent human being, and overflows with different facets of creativity. He's been the art director, taking photos for the publication (he's got a great eye), and handled all the business side. A bunch of people have my back going forward, all spelled out in the press release and in the editor's note that's now on The Magazine's site.

It's also been quite fun working with his programming code. One of the challenges of the switchover is that I wanted to put into place a number of changes (coming in a few days) to the Web site, but didn't have the time to hire and direct someone. Dean Putney, who has worked for BoingBoing for years, will be my go-to guy for future significant improvements.

But during May, I revisited my weak and outdated PHP knowledge (I've been a perl guy forever), learned about model-view-controller frameworks, and developed a much more intimate knowledge of CSS and responsive design (Web design that works well on mobile, desktop, etc., without having custom sites for each type of screen).

It was a good challenge, and it made me think deeply about how we can improve the experience for readers as the publication has more and more articles in its archives and we add more features (podcast, blog entries, etc.). The Magazine has been superb for reading from day one; adapting it for managing what one has read is the next and great big challenge.

Dropbox Manages To Get It Right

A disproportionate percentage of my life (and probably all of yours) has been spent managing the bad customer service offered by most companies, technology and otherwise. It's worth calling out a company that gets it right.

I've had a Dropbox account for years, but I foolishly had the company convert my normal, free account into a Teams business account for a review two years ago for Macworld in which I looked at several cloud-storage options for businesses. I asked the PR folks if they could convert my account back later, and it didn't happen — I didn't follow up and forgot about it.

Recently, I received email that my account was expiring and I realized I need to take action. I guessed I was well above my 2 GB initial account size even with referrals and other upgrades that Dropbox offers. I can't accept free services or products except for testing, and should be paying for a premium account. (Normally, I cancel or abandon services after testing, or have just a 30-day account set up and then can start paying.)

I emailed Dropbox tech support about the issue, fearing I'd lose my history of deleted files, short-term revisions, and the like, and have to start a new account from scratch. I would lose any data, but it seemed a shame.

Instead, Dropbox took care of it like a boss. I have Growl installed in Mac OS X, which integrates with Mountain Lion's Notifications feature. This gives me little transient feedback notices when stuff happens in the background that is useful to know if I'm watching, but I don't need to go back and check on.

Dropbox messages start to come through. First, the account drops down to not enough storage. Then it jumps to 85 GB of storage. A few more messages come through indicating someone is mucking about on the backend. I log in via the Web, and see I can now upgrade and pay for a 100 GB-level account (about $10 per month or $100 per year). I do so.

By the time I'm done, I've received email from Hannah at Dropbox explaining that she's converted my account and added 85 GB for 14 days to ensure I have enough time and space to upgrade my account during the transition. The technical part worked perfectly; so did the wetware side.

Dropbox has become like oxygen to me. It is something I barely think about, except when it goes pear-shaped (which is rarely, fortunately). I throw stuff in there, and I expect it to be available everywhere, nearly instantly. I barely use file attachments in email or any other file-transfer methods because of its option of sharing a link to any file. It's nice to know they can execute on this end, too.

It's a sad thing that competence seems so outstanding, but it's true.

Bonus! Finder-Based Sharing

Just before this, I had the nice experience of an invisible upgrade from Dropbox that improved the user side of things. Dropbox has long required a round-trip to the Web site to complete many tasks. The company added Finder-based link-sharing a while back, but it requires Control-clicking a file or folder, selecting Dropbox from a submenu, and choosing Share Link, and then being taken to the Web site to complete the operation.

Dropbox improves Finder-based contextual actions.

Dropbox improves Finder-based contextual actions.

Now it's all in the Finder. Control- or right-click on a file or folder, and three options appear that were previously in the sub-menu. Copy Dropbox Link creates the link and puts the result in the Clipboard. One operation. Less friction.

Stand in the Place Where You Work

Everybody seems to be writing articles about the benefits of standing while you work, as well as potentially walking at the same time.

My friend Susan Orlean wrote a wonderful account for the New Yorker of her conversion from sitter to stander to "walking alive." Lex Friedman and I were part of the legion of Twitter friends and real-life buddies that kept egging her on until she made the switch. Seems to suit her.

My father sent me a link to an LA Times story that covers similar material in a more admonitory tone. We're killing ourselves by sitting! Having spent 20 years mostly seated during the day, I'm glad to be mostly standing, just for a change.

Last week, I wrote an Economist Babbage blog item about my first two weeks with a Fitbit, which tracks your steps; my unit also tracks stairs/altitude climbed. I went from walking perhaps 10 miles a week and rarely using my treadmill to getting the competitive fervor and crossing 40 miles two weeks in a row. Its tracking system is full of small to large rewards and competitions (against one's self or friends) that has prodded me. I know I can reach those goals every day, and I know that I can beat Lex's step count on the weeks he flies to Australia and back.

She got big house, drop top, jet ski Versace, Prada, and Veni

I had a lot of response from One Million Dollars! yesterday, much of it about my investment approach — folks, always consult with a trained, certified financial adviser who only has your best interests at heart and isn't paid by commissions, and such beasts exist — but some about how they'd spend the money.

My dream is a second floor on our house. We've added a bedroom and bathroom in the basement, and cleaned it up enough that I put my office into a freed-upon side. I'd rather not add much more space, but it would be nice to have a "rumpus room" and another spare room. Thus is the extent of my ambition. No cars, no second houses, no ski chalets. Just a little freedom to pursue the work I love, and the same for my family, and the ability to be charitable at higher levels of giving (and the time to participate more in philanthropic organizations).

What would you do if you suddenly came into millions of dollars? Or if you had a dot-com or other windfall, how did you spend it?

Update: Oleg Makaed wrote a wonderfully thoughtful response with a great anecdote about his father offering him choices over at Medium.

One Million Dollars!

My friend/colleague/employer/foil Marco Arment was employee #1 at Tumblr, and it thus is no surprise that people have been curious as to the number and total value of the bags of cash that will thrown out of helicopters onto his palatial Hastings-on-Hudson estate soon. His boss, David Karp, reportedly received from Yahoo's $1.1 billion offer about $220 million or $250 million, depending on the source.

Marco wrote a blog post about his time working for David from 2006 to 2010, which began as a collaborator on consulting work and morphed into Tumblr. It's a lovely bit of writing about how two people (even in an unequal power relationship) can produce sums greater than their parts through productive agreement and disagreement.

But on the Accidental Tech Podcast ATP, Marco and his two co-hosts, John Siracusa and Casey Liss, go into the issue of money much further and in a rather interesting way.

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Focus, Damn It!

The iPhone and similar smartphones with decent built-in cameras aren’t as good as a real camera when you’re taking photos to accompany reporting. There are times when it is the best camera — because, as Chase Jarvis’s book notes, The Best Camera Is the One That’s with You. But don’t confuse utility with quality or a stylistic statement.

I spoke not long ago with photojournalist John D. McHugh, who a few years ago received a bullet wound in Afghanistan on assignment, recovered, and still travels to war zones all over. He created Marksta, a tool for watermarking pictures taken on or loaded onto mobile phones and tablets. Despite having an array of DSLRs to choose from, McHugh says he often shoots with an iPhone because it doesn’t cause subjects to pose for him or get suspicious. It’s also been an easy phone for him to use when he smuggles himself into a country or region, and doesn’t want to appear like a photographer. (He’s perverse, though, once bringing a 4-by-5 film camera into Afghanistan, which required developing chemicals that are, in raw form, bags of white powder.)

I originally published this at Medium.

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