Toughen Up, U.S. Cartoonists Warn Newspaper Editors

Imagine waking up as an American editorial cartoonist on Tuesday, January 7th. You go into work (if you are one of the lucky ones still employed), sharpen your pencil and sit down to read news of the bloody massacre of your colleagues and friends, the only people who truly understand you.

In the close-knit cartooning community, January 7th, the day Islamist terrorists executed four cartoonists and eight other journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, will be remembered henceforth as Black Tuesday.

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Here’s How The Intercept Landed Serial’s Star Witness for His First Interview

Natasha Vargas-Cooper sat with the key witness in Adnan Syed's trial, chronicled in the podcast Serial, for four hours this week. Her interviews are appearing on The Intercept. (Nikola Tamindzic)

Natasha Vargas-Cooper sat with the key witness in Adnan Syed’s trial, chronicled in the podcast Serial, for four hours this week. Her interviews are appearing on The Intercept. (Nikola Tamindzic)

Serial fans get it. When I first discovered that The Intercept’s Natasha Vargas-Cooper had landed a sit-down with Jay Wilds, I alerted everyone in my life that they were not to speak to me until I had read and digested the interview. The current-day Mr. Wilds, the star witness whose timeline and testimony comprised essentially the state’s entire case against his former schoolmate and weed customer Adnan Syed, was excruciatingly absent from Serial. While the show relied heavily on tapes of Mr. Wilds’ police interviews and trial testimony, his refusal to speak to the show’s reporter, Sarah Koenig, made it difficult to get a sense of both what his life is like now or why he did what he did then. Until now.

“I had never listened to Serial before,” Ms. Vargas-Cooper told the Observer this afternoon. “And then I got an email from another reporter who works at Rede Globo, which is a Brazilian news outlet. She was friends with Jay’s lawyer and Jay was interested in talking. They were very upset [with the way Jay had been depicted in Serial]. So she had asked around for recommendations of a journalist to turn to and a professor friend of hers who doesn’t know me but knows my work said ‘Talk to Natasha Vargas-Cooper,’ and so they said would you be willing to talk to Anne and Jay.”

According to Ms. Vargas-Cooper, Sarah Koenig had tried to interview Jay’s lawyer, Esther “Anne” Benaroya, and “it was kind of disastrous.”

“Anne told me what she felt were the big issues. I had identified those issues. I told her, ‘Give me a couple of days to listen to Serial and I will get back to Anne.’ So I listened to Serial to see if there was something there and if it’s something I wanted to get involved with and I saw some really huge… I mean just some stuff that I was like – I mean problems, and I don’t mean that necessarily in the ethical sense but it was like … If I were to come to you at The Observer and say I want to write about a case and I don’t have the star witness, I don’t have the victim’s family, I don’t have the detectives, I don’t think you would run it, you know.”

I told Ms. Vargas-Cooper that I absolutely would, assuming I was persuaded that all efforts to get those people had been made. And I am pretty persuaded of that in the case of Serial.

“Oh, totally. I don’t want this to be like I am trying to blow up Sarah Koenig. I don’t want to sling mud at her. She presented a very compelling story with characters who I really wanted to hear from.”

“No, not at all,” I replied. “I think it’s that you’re trying to present a fuller picture. I thought Sarah Koenig showed eight pieces of a ten-piece puzzle, Jay’s stuff is a ninth piece and we may never get the tenth piece.”

“We’re only in the middle of it,” exclaimed Ms. Vargas-Cooper. “We spent about four hours together. We have spent a lot of time on the phone before and since, and I think he’s a really complicated guy and I think I’m dealing with somebody who has like being really traumatized. [This interview] has intensified and further armed the pro-Adnan people, which I feel like at this point anything would. But I think for people who are not as partisan it created a more fleshed out human being. The reason why I cover criminal justice is I’m not really into advocacy, I’m really into human beings in high-stakes situations and the extremes of human behavior and all of that. We got parts of that from Serial, but we didn’t get that with Jay because it wasn’t a part of the story. [My interview] demonstrated that Jay’s a pretty smart guy. He’s a human being and I don’t think there was any way for him to have known that not giving an interview to a journalist would result in huge segment of the population speculating that he committed the murder. Like, for this article, people have asked me to comment and I’m commenting to you. I don’t think it would ever occur to me that if I didn’t comment to a journalist that somehow I would be punished by the internet. To watch somebody grapple with that … He’s like, ‘I’m freaked out.’ Basically, Jay said he and Sarah talked for 20 minutes in his house and when she reported it back it was used to demonize him. So he’s like ‘My fear is that it would have been 50 times worse if I would have talked to her.’”

Serial’s Sarah Koenig, left, with This American Life producer Ira Glass, and executive producer Julie Snyder. (Meredith Heuer/This American Life)

I asked Ms. Vargas-Cooper what drew her so strongly to this, as someone with a long history of crime reporting but no prior engagement with Serial.

“I’ve reported on a case that involved a friend of mine who was murdered when I was 17. Getting teenagers to testify and testify accurately is a nightmare because they’re afraid of everything. Their parents, their friends, the cops, and we were pretty well-to-do kids. And just recently on a case I’m working on involves marines who committed a murder against another marine, and there were some marines on the base who knew about it and didn’t come forward and didn’t testify. So to me, people who are willing to testify are pretty fascinating and they experience the criminal justice system in a way that most other people don’t. It’s very interesting because … like in The Wire, which all of the delightful white liberals who are creaming over This American Life also adore and cherish. One of the big central moral issues in The Wire is that a state’s witness was killed and if you’re going to step out and like speak a truth about a crime as a state’s witness then you deserve to be protected and respected for that. Hypothetically, everybody seemed to agree with that premise on the show. Now, put into real life they’ve really vilified Jay and I find that reaction pretty fascinating.”

Fascinating, indeed. On Reddit, for example, amateur detectives have leapt into action. This link pins the blame on Jay’s father—how nice—and others link to Jay’s post 1999 brushes with the law for stuff like theft under $500 and possession of drug parapharnelia. It hasn’t been pleasant.

“I mean it’s been terrible for Jay. Like I’ve seen it, their address has been posted. Their kids’ names have been posted. That’s going to be our third part, which is like all the corrupt collateral damage that’s happened. Like people have called his employer. People have showed up at the house to confront them. It’s like horrendous. It’s like the internet showed up at your front door.”

Even Ms. Vargas-Cooper has now come under some fire. People have been tweeting all kinds of crazy stuff at her: “People have been like, ‘How much have you paid Jay?’ which is absurd.”

With Serial finished and having concluded without the “Adnan is indisputably guilty or officially exonerate” moment many were hoping for, fans are left with a gaping hole. Serial’s failure to include today’s Jay was not for lack of effort. Ms. Koenig made clear the lengths to which she tried to gain his cooperation, including the brief untaped encounter. But the absence of Jay’s hindsight perspective—the absence of ANY perspective from the prosecutor’s side, including the detectives and the prosecutors themselves—did leave a hole in the 12-part series.

On Monday, Ms. Vargas-Cooper poured a dumptruck of Jay into that hole and has at least a couple more coming. It’s incredibly fulfilling to those of us who spent 10 hours listening plus countless more debating and studying maps of the Best Buy and reading Rabia Chaudry’s amazing blog and basically allowing this new medium to consume our lives.

“Well, it might get even better,” Ms. Vargas-Cooper said tantalizingly. “It hasn’t been 100% confirmed, but I do have like two more interviews of people who refused to speak with Sarah who are very big players. … It looks like the prosecutor is going to talk to me and he said he wants to talk about the questions that he would have asked Adnan had he taken the stand.”

Whoa. Waiting for the next Intercept interview is now as torturous as waiting for the next Serial. Worth it!

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The 14 Most ____ Round-Ups of 2014

2014 New Years Eve

( photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s that time of year when bloggers schedule their year-end wrap ups to post while they are off drinking egg nog and ‘gramming pictures of their childhood bedrooms. The result is a plethora of end of the year round-ups.

So in the interest of publishing even more lists on the Internet, the Observer has complied a list of end-of-year lists. It isn’t comprehensive (because nobody should have to read every year-end list). Instead, it is a fairly random sampling of 14 year-end-lists that have caught our eye, for whatever reason. Enjoy. And remember, by next week, it will be the beginning of a new year. We will never have to talk or think about 2014 again.

Notable Opinion Art of 2014The New York Times ‘ Opinion Pages got self-referential.

Great TV 2014: Not a List, Not in Order New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum finally succumbed and wrote about the shows she watched and liked over the past year, proving that even The New Yorker isn’t immune.

The media’s volatile year, Politico’s media reporter Hadas Gold reminded us of what a crazy year it has been for media news, “for better or worse,” as the subhead explained.

The worst journalism of 2014 CJR gave us a more depressing take on the year in media.

The 10 Worst Civil Liberties Violations of 2014 “It’s been an exceptionally awful year,” Slate unequivocally explained.

31 Moments That Restored Our Faith in Humanity in 2014 Juxtapose that with BuzzFeed’s uplifting take on the past year. After all, how bad can a year be when there were multiple spontaneous dance parties on public transportation?

The 15 worst Internet hoaxes of 2014—and where the pranksters are now Never mind. The girl who somehow pranked Internet writers into believing that she had gotten a plastic surgeon to give her a third boob in order to score a reality show is now trying to be a pop star. Whatever faith in humanity was restored by BuzzFeed has been ruined by The Washington Post.

An Unquenchable Year: The Jezebel Thirsty 100 The Gawker media site staff made a list of the people and things that exhibited the most “thirst,” which is defined as “unseemly striving for an unrealistic goal, or an unnecessary amount of praise.” They named themselves the thirstiest.

Bests, Worsts and Other Superlatives From 2014 in Entertainment Vulture covered all the bases.

The 9 Robots That Might Have Enslaved Us in 2014 Fast Company won for the headline alone.

In Memoriam: Remembering All the Content That Didn’t Go Viral This Year Speaking of things that could have happened but didn’t, Clickhole’s parody is spot-on.

Stars strip down: The year in nude celebrity photos There isn’t much we can count on, but at least there is the New York Post.

The 14 Most Scandalous Instagram Posts of 2014 (NSFW)Cosmo also came through in the dependable category.

Check Out What Opened on the Upper West Side in 2014 Of course, if its hyperlocal you want, DNAinfo has you covered.

Note: We left out publication’s list of their own most popular/best stories (we aren’t doing publicity). We didn’t include writer’s recaps of their own year (Medium took care of that). And even though the Observer has written some end-of-year lists ourselves, we didn’t include them because even we have limits to how meta we can get.

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The Newest Republic: Imagine a Magazine About TNR

The Newest Republic

This is what the future of magazines will look like. (photo courtesy of Jon White>/em>)

Ever since the news broke that The New Republic was re-imagining itself as “a vertically integrated digital media company” and replacing editor Franklin Foer with Gabriel Snyder, the Internet has overflowed with think pieces and hot takes about the changes at the venerable, 100-year-old magazine and what they mean for Journalism and Serious Thought.

A week ago, when it seemed that we were at peak TNR obits, The Awl ranked the top forty hot takes on The New Republic.

But we hadn’t reached a peak. The post-mortems just kept on coming, one after another, sitting half-read in multiple tabs on our computers.

This past Friday, New Yorker writer and now-former TNR contributor Ryan Lizza reported on the inside story of the “collapse of The New Republic.” It was good (I even recommended it as weekend reading). But I hoped it could end there. Did it? Of course not. Today brought still more analysis. It is hard to imagine a world without a constant stream of stories about what happened at The New Republic.

“There should be a magazine that just prints stories about what happened at The New Republic,” I tweeted this afternoon. Well, sometimes, wishes/greatest fears come true!

In response, Jon White, a graphic designer/cartoonist, made a mock-up of what the cover of said publication would look like. Considering that enough writers and editors pulled their stories and resigned to make the January issue, which was to close last week, an impossibility, it’s kind of ironic that there has now been enough content about the magazine’s demise to fill multiple issues.

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Vice’s Birthday Party at the End of the World

(Photo via Vice)

(Photo via Vice)

“I would believe only in a god who could dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound and solemn: he was the spirit of gravity—through him all things fall.” – “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Friedrich Nietzsche

The entrance to the apocalypse was a singular open gate to the Brooklyn Naval Yard last Friday night. It was pouring, and the hoard was reminiscent of that scene from every zombie apocalypse movie where they’re about to close the only bridge that leads out of the city, and the ~authorities~ say, “There’s only one shuttle left,” and someone (me) screams something like, “I’m a member of the press!” and push through dejected, shouting masses.

We were headed to Vice’s 20th Birthday. Not the 20th birthday of the venture backed new media org with the HBO show, TV programs, documentaries, smattering of verticals and burgeoning news staff. It was the 20th anniversary of a magazine, a record label, a rolodex—the way-back-then Vice. After all, that recent injection of half a billion dollars was an overnight success 20 years in the making. And they were going to fucking celebrate.

Once through the gates, those of us who chose to walk went at a quick jog under the looming of the Naval Yard. I was alone; my one potential companion to the event got lost in the masses while looking for his coke guy

The party was in a hanger that dwarfed us even looking in from the outside. In past the obligatory table of free magazines and wall full of print covers no one paid any mind to (aren’t we all just technology companies now anyway?) were all of NYC’s health goths, Twitterites, wide brim hats, beards, beanies, bloggers, flannels, fuccbois and fangirls.

(Photo via Vice)

The past couple of weeks have been a bloodletting in the media—buyouts at the Times, the issue-cancelling exodus at the New Republic. What a downer! At a pre-game party for Vice employees, Vice cofounder and CEO Shane Smith took the stage with one million dollars cash and gave out bonuses to every present employee. Happy Birthday.

“Every Vice employee is here right now carrying $1,500 in sequential hundreds,” someone in the crowd told me. “Let’s rob them all and go to Mexico!”

Sounded like a plan, only it was impossible to figure out who was a Vice employee, who was a friend of Vice, or someone whose “boyfriend worked for Vice” (the vast majority). The party wasn’t a party so much as definitely just a concert—most people knew a sum total of three or four other people at best.

We wanted to closer look behind the madness, so we found a rep for Vice out in the smoking area and asked where the real people were. You know, editors, hosts, honorable guests, etc.

“Tonight, we’re just celebrating, so everyone’s a VIP,” a Vice representative told me. Which got me wondering who the hell those people were on the balcony above the stage, hidden behind the lights show with cocktail dresses and much more room to breathe, watching on high. Those must have been the very, very important persons.

(Photo via Vice)

(Photo via Vice)

The show was hosted by Andrew W.K., the pinnacle party-host who would be one of the many people to begin the night with “When I met the guys at Vice for the first time.”

The first few hours of acts were hard rock and metal bands—perfect for those 30 guys up front with the beards throwing up devils horns. The lineup was a whirlwind of, “Did you hear Jonah Hill is performing with Spike Jonze? Oh shit, I missed it!? Well at least Scarlet Johansson is setting up for her songs now. Or is that Pussy Riot? What time is it?”

Slowly the crowd at the front became denser, and the detritus began to rise—legs were lifted higher as it became more difficult to shmoney dance over a growing pile of cups, cans and plates. In the smoking area, the small tables each became a leaning tower of garbage. Not a single one toppled.

(Photo via Vice)

(Photo via Vice)

Lil Wayne, the most hotly anticipated name on the set list—for most, the answer tonight, “Do you know who’s playing tonight,” was, “All I know is Lil Wayne!”—took that stage some untold hours in what what seemed like five minutes.

The set list had leaked to Instagram before the acts had the chance to take the stage. (Photo via Instagram)

The set list had leaked to Instagram before the acts had the chance to take the stage. (Photo via Instagram)

We left shortly before the end—not early, per se. Right before Nicki Minaj presumably took the stage to give what was no doubt a rapturous performance of “(two tracks).” We followed the dissolving crowd through the rising tide of garbage, the quarantine area, into the industrial village of the naval yard. Like watching the world rebuild itself—instant sobriety.

Doubtless, the party went on, spawning a contagion of spontaneous afterparties, polluting every nearby bar, and into morning. For all we know, it never stopped.

Maybe Shane Smith is still there with the throng, taking the stage now, refuse piling up higher, almost up to his neck. Tossing stacks of cash.

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