Myriam Robin, media reporter

“Fable” by Teju Cole in The New Inquiry

“Having thus designed it, the Adversary sent the monster out to Noiseville. ‘A new monster!’ the cry went up, and the monster grew a little stronger. “It grows stronger!” went the chorus, and the monster grew stronger still. And thus it was in Noiseville that the new monster, weaker than all the other monsters ever sent by the Adversary, was the only thing the people of Noiseville spoke about. The sound had reached a deafening roar. In every newspaper across Noiseville, the most read articles were about the monster. On television, the reporters spent most of their time making noise about the monster. On little devices the people carried around with them, it was all monster all the time. If the monster smiled, there was noise in reaction. If the monster scowled, there was noise. If it coughed, there was an uproar of coughing and commentary on the manner of the monster’s coughing. The Adversary was astonished by how well his little stratagem had worked. The monster smiled and scowled and coughed, and learned to say the things that generated more noise. And on and on it grew.”

Dan Wood, subeditor

“Capital letters out, swearwords in: one journalist’s legacy” by David Marsh in The Guardian 

“The last two of my four decades in the job have been spent at the Guardian, the newspaper my grandparents read. (OK, this is a lie: they read the Daily Express, but they lived in Manchester, so in theory they could have read the Manchester Guardian. And my grandmother later introduced me to her neighbour, a Mrs Weatherby, whose son WJ was a distinguished Guardian US correspondent.)

The brief given me was, broadly, to stop people calling the paper ‘the Grauniad’. Or, since this professional suicide mission was always unlikely to succeed, at least give them less reason to do so. I have been, in the words of one English professor, ‘the man responsible for the spelling mistakes in the Guardian’. It’s a living. Was a living.

My allies in the fight have been the best team of subeditors anyone could wish for. My weapon was the Guardian style guide, much admired, occasionally followed. You didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway: my favourite entry from this two-decade labour of love remains

Meat Loaf

doesn’t sing”

Sally Whyte, journalist

“Hillary the pol” by Connie Bruck in The New Yorker 

“Bedazzled as many in Congress were by the force of her intellect, so evident in these presentations, it was hardly an unknown quantity: her reputation as a formidable lawyer with a first-rate analytical mind had preceded her. What was unexpected, in those early months of her tenure as First Lady, was her sallying forth with the instincts and tactics of a seasoned politician. A person who observed her relations with Congress has since said, ‘There was a skepticism on the Hill about her role’ — as head of the health-care initiative. ‘Was she a dilettante, not really willing to dirty her hands? But, as it turned out, she was willing to travel to people’s districts, willing to call their favorite radio reporters. She is substantively driven — but she was also engaged in courting, incessantly … A lot of people were surprised that she was working this issue the way someone would who was not the First Lady.’ This person added, ‘The First Lady is a pol.'”

Bernard Keane, politics editor

“The Hearing Aid’s Pursuit of Invisibility” by Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi in The Atlantic

“Aids to hearing have always been designed to be hidden: concealed within the skin or the body, or disguised as furniture and ordinary objects. In the 19th century, the wealthy had the option of purchasing mechanical aids to hearing that could “disappear” when not in use: fans, urns, thrones, headbands, and even walking canes were all masked as assistive devices. Even ordinary ear trumpets could be refashioned for specific purposes, such as mourning, with lace and ruffles intended to be hidden in a widow’s dress. By the 1950s, hearing-aid companies like Sonotone sent out free mail-order pamphlets advising women how to fashionably style their hearing aids, including disguising wires in a jeweled pin.

“To treat hearing loss (whether temporary or progressive), people turned to faithful family remedies: decongestants such as tobacco smoke to clear out the head, filling ears with fluids, wearing tight caps, plugging ears with cotton, or medicinal recipes including purgatives. Patent medicines and restorative tonics appeared, all promising miraculous results for hearing loss. These were characteristic of the time. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were considered the golden age of American patent medicine, when distrust and frustration over contemporary medical therapeutics encouraged people to look for alternative treatments. Where medical practitioners failed to deliver on a deafness treatment — or in some cases, made the impairment worse — these entrepreneurs offered hope. They promised to quickly, painlessly, and discreetly alleviate deafness. Some even boasted guarantees of relief.”

Josh Taylor, journalist 

“A good hard look at the Greens” by Paddy Manning in The Monthly

“On election night, crouched over their laptops in a tatty old make-up room in the bowels of Melbourne’s Forum Theatre, Greens campaign workers were fielding calls from scrutineers at polling booths in the city’s inner suburbs and trying to make urgent sense of the count.

“The Greens’ leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, twigged early. ‘It’s going to be one of those elections,’ he said. ‘Four seats like this.’ He gestured, fingers pinched close.”

Cassidy Knowlton, editor

“How a Secretive Branch of ISIS Built a Global Network of Killers” by Rukmini Callimachi in The New York Times

“The masked man explained that, although the group was well set up in some European countries, it needed more attackers in Germany and Britain, in particular. ‘They said, ‘Would you mind to go back to Germany, because that’s what we need at the moment,’’ Mr. Sarfo recalled. ‘And they always said they wanted to have something that is occurring in the same time: They want to have loads of attacks at the same time in England and Germany and France.’

“The operatives belonged to an intelligence unit of the Islamic State known in Arabic as the Emni, which has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations branch, dedicated to exporting terror abroad, according to thousands of pages of French, Belgian, German and Austrian intelligence and interrogation documents obtained by The Times.”

And a companion piece 

“How one journalist uses social media to get inside the minds of ISIS” by Caitlin Roper in Wired

Your reporting completely changed my understanding of these groups. Until I read your work, I couldn’t see them with any nuance.

When I was publishing those stories in 2013, there was so much pushback on me from editors and then from readers. The critique was, “How dare you give these people a voice? How dare you see them as anything other than the disgusting dogs they are?” The thing is, my reporting doesn’t deny that they’re perpetrating crimes against humanity, but I think that our job as journalists is to understand and to bring gray where there is only black and white. Because there’s always gray.

How is this beat different from others?

If you’re doing a story about a shooting in America where lots of people died, you would without fail call the lawyer of that crazy person to get the criminal’s response. You might not give it much consideration, but at least you’d get their “no comment.” This is the one group where we don’t even try. I had to wrestle with a lot of criticism for reaching out to them and trying to speak with them. The criticism is that by reaching out, I’m giving them a mouthpiece for their propaganda.


Peter Fray

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