The Medium Car Crash

The Medium.com logo, in 1997, before Evan Williams. Via archive.org

Evan Williams and his work are profiled in the New York Times by David Streitfeld. He’s behind Twitter and Blogger. There is one good point that succinctly explains a big problem with the web today:

The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.

His goal is to break this pattern. “If I learn that every time I drive down this road I’m going to see more and more car crashes,” he says, “I’m going to take a different road.”

[…]

For five years, Mr. Williams has been refining a communications platform called Medium. Its ambition: define a new model for media in a world struggling under the weight of fake or worthless content. Medium is supposed to be social and collaborative without rewarding the smash-ups. It is supposed to be a force for good.

Medium feels to me like it isn’t as popular as Twitter, but it is a thing that I suspect most people reading this would have read a few articles on.

The article talks about the business model of Medium, how it exists as a platform for writing. I think it misses the real problem with the site, the reason why Medium exists is to profit off of the work of writers. Not that Evan Williams is a bad person — he tried to create a space for good writing in Medium — the real problem with Medium is that it is yet another business that exists as a parasite on a writer’s work without providing them with a living wage or an identity.

The Times article goes on to talk with one writer who made some money on the site. She received $50 per article, when they were paid, and went on to write about 100 in the same year. Not all of those were paid, and $50 isn’t bad at all for a new writer, but even if she had been paid for every article $5000 a year isn’t going to pay the rent.

Whether the business model is correct or not, I read many articles on Medium, I link to very few, and I can’t remember who the authors are of most of the articles I read on the site. Their identity is subsumed into Medium and they no-longer own their writing when it is read on Medium.

A site like Medium can’t help but raise their brand above the authors. Take a look at this article on Medium that I recently linked to.

The only opportunities for an author to express themselves on the page are their byline, and any auto-biographical text that they write in their bio underneath the byline.

In that article by Jose Moran, it is an article exclusively about that author’s work experience at Tesla. We might remember Jose a bit more than anyone else because he works for Tesla, which is an important company in the electric car field even if I don’t like the way they treat their employees.

Here’s how his byline block appears:

Here’s the banner at the bottom of the page when you’re not logged into Medium:

Now let’s pick a recommended article from just above the bottom of the page. The first one is another article about Tesla and it takes us to ThinkProgress, a site that uses Medium as a host for their writing.

Here’s how the author’s byline block is on a page hosted by Medium:

The bio gets cut-off at the top of the page, but there’s a larger version at the bottom with the full text.

Here’s the banner on that hosted site:

What are you signing up for? Medium. Not ThinkProgress, not Jose Moran. You might incidentally get updates from ThinkProgress or Jose after signing up, but Medium-the-business doesn’t give a crap if you do, so long as you keep using Medium.

In both cases the author loses control over their byline as well. Did Joe Romm want to display just part of his byline at the top of the page? We’ll never know, because Medium decided for him.

Does Jose Moran want you to sign up for more updates from him in case he posts an update where Elon grows some balls and lets his employee’s Unionize? Medium decided that no, what you want to do is sign up for Medium.

The only person that has an author’s best interests in mind is that author.

When an author has their own site, they are totally free to express themselves with more than just a byline. Nuclear Monster is to my taste as a modification of the free software WordPress. At the top of the page, that’s a logo I made with the feedback of friends. I picked out the colors of the site, and what code I wanted to use. I decided what the site’s focus should be. Medium pages are identical, generic and bland, because they express the identity of that site instead of the identity of that author.

Those bylines above are actually an improvement over the original Medium. Back in 2013 the author’s byline looked like this:

It is possible that the 2013 byline looked a little better, I have cribbed it from the archive.org version which sometimes isn’t able to preserve the entire detail of an archived page. However, it matches my memory of the site. No author photo or bio.

When you follow an author who has their own site by subscribing to their RSS feed, or on Facebook, or Twitter, you’re going to get to their site as the destination to read their work.

That author gets to decide if they’re going to link off-site at the bottom of their article page. I don’t personally like those kinds of advertisements, so I just have a rotating group of related articles from Nuclear Monster, but at least I have a choice and could decide if I wanted them. Jose Moran has no option after choosing to use Medium to host his writing. There are links to whatever articles the Medium algorithm picked.

As a writer, I hope that Medium fails, because it can’t exist as a functioning business without exploiting authors who need to establish their own identity in order to survive. I want to see more writers own their own websites or choose to work collectively with others instead of seeing their work stripped of identity and authorial ownership to another business intent on exploiting them.

The problem with San Francisco area startups is that they are all car crashes intent on smashing into as many people as possible before the money dries up and they leave without insurance to clean up the mess they left behind.

When Medium fails and is sold to Verizon, it will leave writers bloodied and bruised in its wake who haven’t established their own identity and they may be so frustrated with the experience that they give up on writing entirely.

“Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.”

Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg for the Times:

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

It Gets Worse

This morning, the Times’ Michael S. Schmidt reported that Comey left a fantastic paper trail before he was fired:

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

There’s also this incredible buried lede:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Who Do You Meet With After Firing The FBI Director Investigating Your Collusion With Russia?

David E. Sanger and Neil MacFarquhar for the Times:

Only hours after dismissing James B. Comey as director of the F.B.I., amid an investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, the president met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, at the White House. The Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak — best known to many Americans as the man who discussed lifting sanctions on Russia with Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser — was also in the Oval Office for the meeting.

The world’s only glimpse of this session came from the Russian news agency Tass, which distributed photos of the meeting, with a grinning Mr. Trump shaking hands with the two visitors. No reporters were allowed in to ask questions — though they were ushered in minutes later for Mr. Trump’s session with Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

Breaking here to note how insane it is that journalists weren’t allowed to  witness the meeting with Trump and the Russian kleptocrats. Very reassuring.

And, at the State Department, there was no briefing on an earlier meeting between Mr. Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson is famously reluctant to talk with the press. So that left the field clear for Mr. Lavrov, who has now sat opposite four American secretaries of state and knows how to work the news media well, to describe the conversations.

A Brief History of the President’s Lies

David Leonhardt in the opinion pages:

The president of the United States is lying again.

He is lying about the reason he fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director. Trump claimed that he was doing so because Comey bungled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email, which meant that Comey was “not able to effectively lead the bureau.”

There is no reason to believe Trump’s version of the facts and many reasons to believe he is lying. How can I be so confident?

First, it’s important to remember just how often Trump lies. Virtually whenever he finds it more convenient to tell a falsehood than to tell a truth, he chooses the falsehood.

An incomplete list of the things he has lied about include: Barack Obama’s birthplace, Obama’s phone “tapp,” John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq war, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud, the size of his inaugural crowd, his health care bill and his own groping of women.

Great article, you should read the whole thing.

Trump Fires FBI Director Running Investigation Into Trump’s Campaign

(Now former) FBI Director Comey back in March, quoted by the New York Times:

Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. was “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Yesterday Trump wrote this letter informing Comey of his termination:

Dear Director Comey:

I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Why include that second paragraph when the letters referenced in the first aren’t about an investigation into Trump’s campaign?

Phil Helsel at NBC, yesterday:

President Donald Trump has hired a Washington law firm to send a letter to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee saying he has no connections to Russia, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.

Spicer’s revelation was in response to a question from reporters on a briefing about committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham’s remarks that he wants to look into whether Trump has any business dealings with Russia.

“The president, obviously, was aware of Senator Graham’s suggestion after he made it today and he’s fine with that. He has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia. So he welcomes that,” Spicer said.

“In fact, he is already charged a leading law firm in Washington, D.C., to send a certified letter to Senator Graham to that point that he has no connections to Russia,” Spicer said.

Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey of Lawfare, yesterday:

On November 10, we wrote that that Trump’s firing of Comey would be a “a clear bellwether to both the national security and civil libertarian communities that things are going terribly wrong.” At the time we wrote those words, Comey was deeply unpopular with both the Left, which blamed Hillary Clinton’s defeat on his eleventh hour letter to Congress, and the Right, which criticized his decision to recommend that Clinton not be charged over her handling of government emails. Whatever the merit of Comey’s actions during the campaign, the fact that he managed to anger both sides of the political spectrum demonstrated his storied political independence. And that political independence, we argued, would serve as a critical check against any efforts on the part of President Trump to trample the rule of law.
The FBI Director serves a ten-year term precisely in order to insulate against the whims of a President who does not like what—or whom—the FBI is investigating. While the President has legal authority to fire an FBI director, the fact that Trump has done so under circumstances of an active FBI investigation of the President’s own campaign violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI. The situation has no parallel with the only previous FBI director to be removed by a president: President Clinton’s firing of William Sessions, whose ethical misconduct was so extensive that it resulted in a six-month Justice Department investigation and a blistering 161-page report detailing his illicit activities, including flagrant misuse of public funds. Trump’s firing Comey at a time when Comey is investigating Russian intervention in the election on Trump’s behalf and the specific conduct of a number of people close to Trump undermines the credibility of his own presidency. And it deeply threatens the integrity of and public confidence in ongoing law enforcement and intelligence operations.

Trump’s offered rationale does nothing to assuage the fears we expressed in November regarding the meaning of this event.

If this is truly about his actions during the election, why fire Comey now, months after the inauguration?

Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo for the Times, today:

Days before he was fired, James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in resources for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, according to four congressional officials, including Senator Richard J. Durbin.

If it’s not about Russia and this happened months after the inauguration, surely the administration would have planned this transition to occur smoothly, right?
Michael S. Schmidt, nytimes:

Mr. Comey was addressing a group of F.B.I. employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired.
In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank.

Then his staff started scurrying around in the background and told Mr. Comey that he should step into a nearby office.

Mr. Comey stopped addressing the group. He proceeded to shake hands with the employees he had been speaking to. Then he stepped into a side office, where he confirmed that he had been fired. At that point, he had not heard from the White House.

Shortly thereafter, a letter from Mr. Trump was delivered to the F.B.I.’s headquarters, just seven blocks from the White House.

The Orange Embarassment Doesn’t Even Know How to Order a Wiretap

This is the immediate aftermath of Trump’s insane lie about President Obama wiretapping him during the campaign according to a New York Times article by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman:

That led to a succession of frantic staff conference calls, including one consultation with the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, as staff members grasped the reality that the president had opened an attack on his predecessor.

Mr. Trump, advisers said, was in high spirits after he fired off the posts. But by midafternoon, after returning from golf, he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him, according to two people in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

He sounded defiant in conversations at Mar-a-Lago with his friend Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, Mr. Ruddy said. In other conversations that afternoon, the president sounded uncertain of the procedure for obtaining a warrant for secret wiretaps on an American citizen.

Mr. Trump also canvassed some aides and associates about whether an investigator, even one outside the government, could substantiate his charge.

The embarassment is off of his rocker.

Where Do You Get Your News?

Our President gets his from the best sources:

Mr. Trump’s demand for a congressional investigation appears to be based, at least in part, on unproved claims by Breitbart News and conservative talk radio hosts that secret warrants were issued authorizing the tapping of the phones of Mr. Trump and his aides at Trump Tower in New York.

If you had access to the best sources of information, you might be surprised this embarrassment turns to the worst instead.

Manafort, Flynn, Sally Yates, and Let’s All Take Photos with the Football

Here’s the New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer, Mike McIntire and Barry Meier way back in August of 2016. They’re describing how Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, was involved with a pro-Russian party in the Ukraine:

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.

This was after Russia had attempted to annex part of the Ukraine. Manafort was forced to resign a few days later on August 19th.

Today, Trump’s national security adviser Michael T. Flynn resigned. Here’s the Times again:

But on Monday, a former administration official said the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Mr. Flynn had not been fully forthright about his conversations with the ambassador. As a result, the Justice Department feared that Mr. Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

In his resignation letter, which the White House emailed to reporters, Mr. Flynn said he had held numerous calls with foreign officials during the transition. “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador,” he wrote. “I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

The Justice Department was helmed by Sally Yates when it warned the White House about Flynn. Trump got rid of Yates when she wouldn’t enforce his illegal ban on Muslims from 7 nations that he doesn’t do business with (because he lied about divesting himself of anything) and they aren’t terrorists.

Flynn was one of the lunatics encouraging an audience at the RNC to continue chanting “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. Flynn was giving information to Russia regarding sanctions, and that’s why he resigned. It’s more than “incomplete information.” It’s the height of hypocrisy on his part, and terrifying considering that national security agencies are supposedly (can’t find confirmation at any big paper) witholding information from the Trump administration because the agencies are said to believe the administration can’t keep secrets secret.

I wonder why.

The Definition of Genius

Ashton Applewhite has an article for the New York Times about ageism in hiring preventing good workers from working. In it is this incredible story of a former Apple engineering lead who couldn’t get a tech support job at Apple’s retail stores: 

I’m lucky enough to get my tech support from JK Scheinberg, the engineer at Apple who led the effort that moved the Mac to Intel processors. A little restless after retiring in 2008, at 54, he figured he’d be a great fit for a position at an Apple store Genius Bar, despite being twice as old as anyone else at the group interview. “On the way out, all three of the interviewers singled me out and said, ‘We’ll be in touch,’ ” he said. “I never heard back

What possible reason could there be that Apple wouldn’t hire Scheinberg into a retail tech support role after having accomplished the incredible hardware and software feat of the transition from IBM’s PowerPC to Intel’s x86? 

Unless he had literally shit on a colleague’s desk on the way out of his previous job with the company, I can’t imagine any legitimate reason for him to not be hired.

The one issue I have with this article is that it doesn’t burn the hiring practice of “Culture Fit” more. Here’s the one mention of it:

“Culture fit” gets bandied about in this context – the idea that people in an organization should share attitudes, backgrounds and working styles. That can mean rejecting people who “aren’t like us.” Age, however, is a far less reliable indicator of shared values or interests than class, gender, race or income level. Discomfort at reaching across an age gap is one of the sorry consequences of living in a profoundly age-segregated society. 

Jeff Guo found the Genius anecdote and pointed it out on Twitter.