Deep Breaths

Picture of a beach with "Time to relax" written in the sand as the surf comes in.

It’s the weekend before the first day of school. It’s time to face facts: You’ve done all you can to prepare for the months ahead.

As you look back on the summer, savor a sense of pride: Your team achieved a level of production, of accomplishment, that was extraordinary. Through this hard work, you made your school better, through major projects or in ways that few will ever notice: the refreshed photos in the hallways, the cleaned-up directory, the newly completed school style guide.

A few things are still on your summer to-do list? Isn’t that always the case? Just set that list aside until next June. You won’t need it until then. Better, why not crumple up that list and throw it away, accepting the reality that the time wasn’t ripe, the need not pressing enough, to complete those projects. Maybe they’ll pop up again this year. Maybe they won’t.

You’ve done enough. Own that. Believe that. And feel good about it.

Soon you’ll harvest the results of groundwork you laid for the fall. Not only will you end up with smarter, better work, but you’ll also benefit in your off hours from greater peace of mind, knowing that you’re ahead of the game.

It’s the weekend before the first day of school. Breathe deep. Go play. Read a novel. Take lots of naps.

You will have no better time this year to completely unplug. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

First Things First

In 1995, David Von Drehle gave advice about writing on deadline. It was so cogent, so relevant to every kind of writing, that I’ve held onto it ever since I first heard it. It also serves today as the centerpiece of writing classes I teach.

First, Von Drehle advised, “you have to fall back on the basics” and answer three questions. Then you can write.

  1. Why does this story matter?
  2. What’s the point?
  3. What does it say about life, about the world, about the times we live in?

My goal with this space is to find the words that live up to this challenge. Hold me to it, won’t you?

Why Minority Reporters Leave

Milton Coleman closed up his office at The Washington Post yesterday for the final time, ending a 36-year career at the paper. I have many Milton stories, and I will always feel so fondly toward him, not least because, although Doug Norwood and Gene Robinson hired me at The Post, it was Milton, then the deputy managing editor, who sent me the letter announcing that The Washington Post actually wanted me on its staff.

In 2005, Milton was one of several editors who took part in a kind of training session for younger editors. He was deeply involved with the weekly El Tiempo Latino at this time, and of course I knew of his role as a mentor for many African Americans on the staff. So I wasn’t surprised that Milton came to us to discuss how to reach minority readers — a crucial topic in a city where minorities made up the majority. He pointed out, “The old paradigm of who our new readers are doesn’t work anymore. It used to be our children whom we wrote for, but now immigration drives our population growth.”

What really grabbed me, though, was his list of reasons why reporters of color leave The Post. It opened my eyes to a problem that we still struggle to resolve all these years later. For me, this is the best Milton story, because it touches on his willingness to share, to explain, so that we all end up in a better place, and that’s what Milton Coleman was about. That, and music.

  • They’re street reporters, not process reporters
  • They prefer features to news
  • They pay a tax in their home communities for working for a mainstream publication (Is my newspaper gonna embarrass me?)
  • “My editors don’t get excited or don’t understand my ideas” (This sends a message that the newspaper’s not for me.)
  • They don’t get good assignments
  • “That story is so old” — we are not sophisticated in reporting on communities

Bond Ratings

This is what happens when you’re in the car for three hours on New Year’s Day, when the radio stations want to play you the Top 100 songs you’ve never heard (nor ever wanted to) or the Top 500 classic-rock songs that you already know by heart.

So you punch off the radio, and instead for some reason you and your spouse revisit your disagreement from November, about whether Skyfall was a triumph or a flop. You assert again that it was a flop, which leads to the question of where it ranks in the Bond canon. And this is where things end up.

Best Bond films

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Goldfinger
  3. For Your Eyes Only
  4. Tomorrow Never Dies
  5. From Russia With Love

Remainder of the top half (more or less in order of preference)

  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Goldeneye
  • Live and Let Die
  • Thunderball
  • Die Another Day
  • The Living Daylights

Unrated (I’ve never seen it)

  • Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Bottom half (in chronological order)

  • Dr. No
  • You Only Live Twice
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Octopussy
  • License to Kill
  • The World Is Not Enough
  • Skyfall

Worst Bond films

  1. The Man With the Golden Gun
  2. Quantum of Solace
  3. A View to a Kill
  4. Moonraker

The App Gold Rush

Interesting piece from David Streitfeld in the New York Times:

Much as the Web set off the dot-com boom 15 years ago, apps have inspired a new class of entrepreneurs. … [But] only a small minority of developers actually make a living by creating their own apps, according to surveys and experts. … While people already employed in tech jobs have added app writing to their résumés, the profession offers few options to most unemployed, underemployed and discouraged workers.

It’s also worth restating that this push benefits Apple far more than it does the average developer. Streitfeld notes, “Since Apple unleashed the world’s freelance coders to build applications four years ago, it has paid them more than $6.5 billion in royalties.” Developers get 70 percent of each sale, so Streitfeld’s number means that Apple has made more than $1.95 billion through the App Store — and that figure doesn’t include the hardware it sold to developers.

At one point [a mom-and-pop developer couple] owned a 24-inch iMac, a Mac Mini, a 24-inch cinema display screen, two 13-inch MacBook Airs, a 15-inch MacBook Pro, two iPad 2s, two Apple TVs, two iPhone 4s and an iPhone 3GS. “We justify buying new models by saying we need them to test out the apps,” [Shawn] Grimes said. 

A commenter on Streitfeld’s article notes:

[W]hether it’s the 1898 Alaskan gold rush or Apple apps, the earliest and sometimes the luckiest to pursue any venture sometimes succeed, while the later surge of folks will have stories to tell their grandkids but little in the way of financial reward.

Another mentions a salient point:

I recently found that ~70% of the top 25 apps in a few random categories (wine, diabetes, parking) were initially published in the first 18 months of the App Store. Because Apple gives downloads-to-date great weight in search-results rankings, these first-to-market apps rank highest and are the first consumers find and buy, creating a feedback loop preventing better products from rising to the top.

I suspect 70 percent is high, but the general point is sound: Not many new apps manage to crack the top list without a lot of marketing help (an area that Streitfeld didn’t address but is no less crucial to success for the mom-and-pop developer than for the mom-and-pop restaurateur).

Meanwhile, the Times’ Brian X. Chen notes that the market is demanding more from independents like the Grimeses.

[N]ow that mobile app stores are overflowing with hundreds of thousands of options, consumers are leaning toward buying highly polished apps, and the market is no longer so friendly to amateurs.