Friday, December 22, 2023

I am a dirty journalist

Today's learning is about how I discovered that I have achieved a very despicable status, at least to a self-noticeable extent. I am a dirty journalist. By that, I mean, I like journalism, and I view journalism with the lens of a journalist. This isn't the worst thing in the world, to be honest. It means I read the news, and approach it with an annoying, critical perspective. It doesn't make me a particularly interesting person to normal people though. I think the seed for this was planted on Twitter — the journalist's cesspool. 

I discovered this because I found myself reading journalism about journalism. The Financial Times published this: "Best of Further Reading 2023: FT staff pick their favourite non-FT articles of the year." It is an article about articles published in other newspapers! This is an interesting phenomenon, because in no other sector would a company publish its favorite products from other companies. But journalism is an atypical sector. This article is from FT Alphaville, which is a slightly weirder, significantly more sarcastic department at FT. Point still stands, in my opinion. One example of the journalism weirdness is that news institutions formulate official opinions and use their heft to shift the public opinion. Other companies do this too, but newspapers do it very transparently and just straight up tell us this is what they are doing. Weird! I do this too, I write my opinions in The Michigan Daily, and as a member of the editorial board, I try my best to influence the rest of the editorial board to agree with my opinions and to publish them as the official opinion of The Daily

Regardless, I went through the Best of Further Reading and collected my own Best of Best of Further Reading, strictly based off of the titles and blurbs. I did not read every article. In no order, here they are:

Can Happiness Be Taught? (The New Yorker)

I am not going to lie, I have not read this whole thing, but the lead-in was so good:

Staring into the mirror, on a Tuesday morning, you decide that your self needs all the help it can get. But where to turn? You were reading James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” and doing well until you spilled half a bottle of Knob Creek over the last sixty pages. Now you’ll never know how it ends. You tried listening to David Goggins’s “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds,” on Audible, in your car, but so thrilling was Goggins’s prose style that you stomped on the gas and rear-ended a Tesla. Do not despair, though. Succor is at hand. Roosting on Amazon’s best-seller list is “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” by Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey (Portfolio).

I am suspicious of these happiness people and the self-help book people. I will read this article, and potentially add a note to a future learning.

To understand Labour’s shadow cabinet, read its books (The Economist)

I really like The Economist's short, humorous writing style. So it is no mistake that I enjoyed this article from the ones they listed. I am not a conservative, neither in the upper-case nor lower-case sense. But I do love making fun of liberals.

The books by the Labour shadow cabinet are earnest, virtuous and well-meaning. They tackle such uncomfortable topics as sexism, racism and Peterborough. Their authors travel to places like Wigan and Halifax, and feel sad in them. In reviews these books have been garlanded with such adjectives as “much-needed” and “powerful”. Almost all of them, in other words, are heroically boring.

"Heroically boring" is a fantastic phrase. The author cites one of George Orwell's essays: “Can Socialists be Happy?” The answer to Orwell, I think, is no.

Why Britain doesn’t build (Works In Progress)

This is the kind of thing that I would read normally, so I am saddened that I did not get to read this earlier. It was a fantastic, very detailed explanation of the history of Britian's housing policy and how it has reached the point today, of clear, abject failure. The main takeaway is that giving individual homeowners power over housing development is a recipe for disaster. As Britain became majority-homeowner, the author explains, voter's desires shifted from an interest in lower housing costs to opposing housing nearby for a multitude of aesthetic reasons as well as protecting scarcity for what may be their largest investment. A detailed and very informative read. 

Is David Solomon Too Big a Jerk to Run Goldman Sachs? (The New York Magazine)

The dramas of the finance industry are always really entertaining to read. This article does not even give Solomon the chance — they simply start explaining that he is a jerk. That's not bad! But they explain:

You don’t need to be popular to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs, of course. You can even be an (a-hole). The only real nonnegotiable is that you be skilled at making money, so when the board tapped Solomon to lead the bank in 2018, it was widely understood that as long as earnings got fat, it didn’t matter if his bankers liked him personally.

This article is a good (and meaner) companion to this WSJ piece I found interesting: "Goldman Sachs Is at War With Itself." Unfortunately, it seems like Solomon was not so good at making earnings fat, and that made his DJ personality too annoying to deal with. He still works at Goldman, so maybe he is working it out? To be honest, he just seems like not a nice guy. He doesn't even understand why taking some candy from an analyst's jar might make him seem like a nicer person. He managed to condition the entire firm to not talk to him, and even when he moved his office from the executive suite to sit next to the rank-and-file, people still did not talk to him! Don't be like Solomon — simply be a good boss.

Confessions of a McKinsey Whistleblower (The Nation)

I am such a business major for my interests, I think. A bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. The author of this article worked at McKinsey right after graduation. He reminds me of many friends I have made in undergrad. They want to work in the system, to use the power of business to reform the world. Unfortunately, their dreams may be out of scope. On his work for ICE after working for Rikers:

“The firm does execution, not policy,” Elder said. This was a common refrain at McKinsey. At Rikers, I had asked my team about the possibility of eliminating cash bail, which would have reduced the number of people passing through the jail at the time by roughly 45,000, or well over half, and was told that ideas like this were “out of scope” because the firm “doesn’t do policy.”

If we just do execution, I asked, what would have stopped us from helping Nazis more efficiently procure barbed wire for their concentration camps? In response, I recall Elder muttering about McKinsey being a values-based organization. (Elder has not responded to requests for comment.)

The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge (

An enterprising Minnesotan decided to investigate a "bridge to nowhere." He turns a very mundane bridge into a fascinating exploration. This is probably the most detailed investigation of a pedestrian bridge out there, and I would love to be proven wrong.

The last straw

The FT article isn't the reason I decided I had finally become a journalist who likes journalism too much. That was because I came across this article from The New York Times: "Local Journalism Worth Reading From 2023." The fact that I slowly read through every title in the article then saved the ones I was interested in was too much to bear.