Blog

Updates about Journatic

Jul 17, 2012

There's been quite a lot of fallout in the two weeks since we aired our story about Journatic (episode 468, "Switcheroo"). In case you missed it: Journatic is a company that outsources labor to generate “hyperlocal” news content for newspapers all over the country. To create this content cheaply, it uses offshore researchers and writers, especially from the Philippines. The detail in our story that got newspaper editors worked up, though, was this: In real estate stories done by Journatic's sister company, Blockshopper, writers (both American and Filipino) were routinely using pseudonyms, which meant fake names were making their way into major daily newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

Evidently, the editors of those papers didn't know this was going on. And once they did, they were very unhappy. Several papers have dropped Journatic, and there's some strife at Journatic internally as well. Its editorial chief quit.

The Chicago Tribune (Tribune Co. is a major Journatic investor, by the way) launched an internal investigation, and then suspended its use of Journatic content.

Here's media blogger Jim Romenesko on the subject. His post includes the internal memo sent to Tribune employees. Also in this post: Journatic's editorial chief explains why he just quit.

Here's Poynter's roundup of newspapers that have canceled their deals with Journatic.

And here's another from Poynter, showing how Journatic used fake bylines on other local news stories (Journatic's CEO had insisted the fake bylines were limited to real estate stories).

"Sleepwalk With Me" trailer

Jul 11, 2012

Here is the trailer for Mike Birbiglia's feature film debut "Sleepwalk With Me," in theaters starting August 24th! Ira Glass co-wrote and produced the film with Mike.

Listener Sightings of Cindy Sherman!

Jul 9, 2012

Untitled 119 by Cindy Sherman - (C) 1983

Ira writes:

In our episode "Switcheroo" we invited listeners to write us if they believe they've spotted Cindy Sherman or someone claiming to be Cindy Sherman at her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. We got three responses, none of them matching the woman at MoMA who ran into Ira and Etgar, and told them that she was Cindy Sherman. Lance Weiss wrote:

The day before the exhibit was closing at MOMA my wife and I went to see it.

We were just about at the end when we saw a woman who was dressed over the top in a rock meets punk meets disco way. She was white, late 50s with a short, spiky, multicolored hair/wig, layered scarves, colorful blouse and hanging leather strap waist length necklaces with metal legends like "Rock and Roll."

She was by herself, carefully going through the exhibit and drawing a certain amount of initial attention and then New Yorker blasé acceptance. But you could see that several attendees -- myself included -- began to think that it was Cindy Sherman.

I was semi-stalking her, trying to compare her mouth to the way the mouth went down more on one side in many of the pictures in the exhibit. Finally my wife just decided to ask her. She said she wasn't but that she was really pleased that we thought she was. She said her name was Jerrie Disco and she worked for Hypergenic magazine, neither of which turned up later in a Google search. She took a picture of herself with me in the background. We chatted very pleasantly a little more and left unsure, wondering if that photo was ever going to be the basis for something.

A listener named David White sent this, saying "I know it was really her:"

I posted this on my Facebook page on March 3rd. The day after the experience.

I MET CINDY SHERMAN: On the 5th floor of MoMA, Cindy Sherman has a retrospective show of her life's work. The work uses costumes and makeup to comment on and obscure her identity or role as a woman, artist, and human. Last night as I walked around staring at the portraits of one of the most influential feminist artist in the world I was looking into the only common denominator in all her work, her eyes. Several points of the evening I made eye contact with a amazingly overweight woman, that looked to be more interested in the people in the gallery, than the work. I suddenly realized that the eye's in the photos where the very same as ones of the woman in the crowd. The more I looked the more sure I was. Cindy was taking in the height of her life's work in perfect makeup and a fat suit. I introduced myself and she introduced herself as Terry, then later as Debbie when someone she had met earlier in the evening walked up. We spoke about art, society, banned work and the immensity of the show. I realize what I write here can never recreate the experience or accurately portray what it was like...

To expand, I was with a friend and as I sat with Cindy, My friend came sat down next to me. I introduced my friend Crystal to "Terry." All the while her not knowing Cindy and my little secret. Cindy and I kept talking. She said that she had came to the event through a meet up group. Where their plan was to go to the exhibition and then to dinner afterward to talk about the show. I was exhausted from my day at work and probably not showing my interest in the show but that couldn't be less true. I've admired Cindy since I first learned of her in college. I was surprised to see the expanse of her work. I didn't know about her darker period and her banned work. While talking with Cindy we discussed how I thought shock art was dead considering the state of media.

The point I knew it was her was when she walked by me after making eye contact for the third time. I saw her eyes they were the same as the eyes in her work. She looked to be 300 lbs in her fat suit, it doesn't seem right to call it a fat suit... Anyway, as she walked by me she was amazingly light on her feet and I saw her skip for just a second. I knew then... she said hi and sat down. I looked at her face and the makeup was flawless. That costume was flawless. It must of cost thousands of dollars...

And finally, an artist named Tim Sheesley sent this interestingly ambivalent sighting:

I was so happy to hear that someone else saw Cindy Sherman at MOMA. You made my day. I thought I was delusional.

Here's my story. On Friday May 18 at 1:30 I purchased my ticket for MOMA. At about 2:15 I made it to the Sherman exhibit. Having known about Cindy Sherman's work for some time I never really got a good full scale big show overview of her work and I thought this would be a great time to see what her work was all about. Either I would get it or I wouldn't.

I went up the escalator and was confronted by those big portrait photos out side of the galleries. I studied those pictures carefully. They were impressive. I started to watch the crowd a bit and I spotted someone standing off to the side near the balcony railing also watching the crowd. I thought that person looks kind of like the person in these photos. I started looking back and forth between the photos and the person watching us. Then our eyes met and I realized that she was watching me watch her. I was all but certain that it was Cindy. We were about 30 feet apart. Then I doubted myself and thought I must be crazy. I thought about walking up to her and asking if she was Cindy but I decided not to.

I went through the exhibition and could not shake thinking I saw the real Cindy. By the time I finished looking at those photos I started looking at the people looking at the photos and by this time lots of the people looking at the photos looked like many of the stereotypes she was portraying. Her show really got to me! It was great.

So if it was Cindy that was really cool. If it wasn't that is even more cool because in a way everyone is Cindy. Whatever happened, it made me see her work in a way that I would never have understood it.

So my question to you is was she really making regular visits, or was it a hired Cindy look-alike, or was the work that strong to make us think we really saw her?

We sent these accounts to Cindy Sherman. She replied that none of them were her.

The exhibit moves to San Francisco MoMA this coming weekend. It's great, by the way. Bay Area listeners - if you spot the artist, spot someone impersonating the artist, or decide to impersonate the artist yourself, please drop us a line! The email address: web@thislife.org.

Should Car Talk Be Taken Off The Air?

Jun 26, 2012
Ira writes:

As you may have heard, the guys who do Car Talk are retiring this fall, but NPR will continue to distribute their shows. I think an all-rerun show doesn't fit with our mission as public broadcasters and I wrote an editorial for the public radio trade newspaper making that case. There definitely are two sides to this argument: Car Talk is right now the most popular single hour on public radio.

I'm very very curious where you all come down on this question. Do you want your local station to continue Car Talk after the retirement? Let's chat about it!

My commentary: here.
NPR's response: here.

Ira can foretell the future!

Jun 22, 2012

Ira writes:

Okay, back in October, I wrote on our blog about Jane Espenson's Internet sitcom Husbands, whose premise is, basically Mad About You or I Love Lucy but with a gay couple. My last paragraph:

Jane's hope is that some brave network — AMC? NBC? — will notice their little experiment and give them a budget larger than the cost of a Hyundai to blow people's minds on real TV. If they do it right, of course, they won't be blowing minds at all. They'll just be the New Normal.

Okay, fast forward till today. Maybe you've seen the ads that've started running for the new NBC series about a gay couple? Stars that guy from Book of Mormon who was so great as Hannah's ex-boyfriend in Girls? Created by the guy who did Glee? Its name? The New Normal.

That is the incredible influence of this blog at the highest levels of show business.

Spanish transcript of "What Happened at Dos Erres"

Jun 22, 2012

After receiving several requests, we've had the transcript of Episode #465: "What Happened at Dos Erres" translated into Spanish. You can download a PDF of the transcript here.

It was translated by Annie Correal, who helped with the story.

"Dos Erres" updates

Jun 1, 2012

Last week's episode, 'What Happened at Dos Erres,' was about a man named Oscar Ramirez who learned that when he was three years old, his entire family was killed at a massacre in Guatemala, and he was then taken and raised by one of the soldiers. He also found out that his biological father, Tranquilino Castañeda, survived the massacre and is still alive. For thirty years, neither Oscar nor Tranquilino knew the other existed. Oscar thought the soldier who took him was his real father. And Tranquilino thought his entire family had been killed at the massacre.

And then, on Monday, the two met face-to-face. Tranquilino, who's 70, left Guatemala for the first time, and landed at Newark Airport, where Oscar was waiting with his wife and four children. ProPublica, one of our partners in reporting this story, was there, and they've posted this video of the reunion:

A print version of Oscar and Tranquilino's story is also available on ProPublica's web site, and as an e-book. And several publications throughout Latin America are running the story in Spanish. Here are links to those:

Argentina's el puercoespín

Colombia's razonpublica.org

Chile's CIPER

The Dominican Republic's Diario Libre

Guatemala's El Periodico (the publisher of El Periodico, Jose Ruben Zamora, also helped us as we were reporting the story)

This weekend, versions of the story will run in Mexico's Proceso.

Live Show Redux

May 18, 2012

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the live show. Here's a little recap, including photos by Adrianne Mathiowetz (who is our web manager and also a Minnesota-based photographer). You can see an entire Flickr gallery with 180 photos from the show here.

On Thursday, May 10th we performed an episode of the radio show on stage at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, and sent it via satellite into movie theaters all over the US and Canada (Some upcoming screenings in the US and Australia too). The show was called "The Invisible Made Visible," and was half stories and half visual things that could never work on the radio - things like dance, animation, a short film, and interactive music performance. The radio version airs this weekend. If you missed the show, fear not. It'll be available on DVD and as a download in a few months.


Ira Glass making some notes on his script before the show.


To run a show like this, you need one of those big RV-sized production trucks. The director, David Stern, is wearing white in the center in the above photo. He calls the shots live from the seven cameras, like at a sporting event. We had five stationary cameras, one steadicam, and one jib (a small crane that can swoop around the room). Technical Manager Marc Bauman is in the foreground.


Live show producer Seth Lind looking over associate producer Emily Condon's shoulder during rehearsal. Performer Ryan Knighton is in the background.


The show kicked off with an animated intro created by Claire Keane, Vincent Rogozyk and Chris Sonnenburg. Claire and Vincent also created the curtain animations that appeared on screen throughout the show.


Ira performing the prologue, about a blind guy named Ryan Knighton trying to find the phone in a hotel room. This story featured 112 illustrations by Jeff Turley.

Next, Ryan Knighton himself took the stage to tell a story, about struggling to get his daughter to understand his blindness. Ryan has written two memoirs, Cockeyed and C'mon Papa. The background for Ryan's story was designed by Chris Ware.

Then Ira invited OK Go to the stage to perform a song on hand bells, accompanied by tens of thousands of people playing along via their phones, in movie theaters all over the place. We all performed a bit of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a warm-up, then launched into OK Go's "Needing/Getting."

OK Go's Andy Ross coded the mobile apps that people used to play along. Morgan Knutson designed the app visuals. And John Kuramoto did the video.

Ira's inspiration for the show was seeing a dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company. He felt that their sensibility matched the radio show, and started building the live show around the idea "things you can't do on the radio." Here, Anna Bass, Christina Robson and Monica Bill Barnes watch rehearsal.

The first dance was a solo by Anna Bass, set to Nina Simone's "Let It Be Me".


Next, Glynn Washington told a story about using supernatural means to find well water. Glynn hosts the public radio show and podcast Snap Judgment.


Glynn was accompanied by Snap Judgment producer Pat Mesiti-Miller on music and sound effects.

Then comedian Tig Notaro told a story about repeatedly meeting 1980s pop star Taylor Dayne.

After her story, we surprised Tig with a serenade by... Taylor Dayne. She sang "I'll Always Love You." Tig, who showed off some pretty sweet dance moves during Taylor's song, co-hosts the podcast Professor Blastoff and has a new standup album called Good One.

Then Ira showed a new short film that comedian Mike Birbiglia made for the show. It features Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air... and clears up the question of what Terry does when she's not doing interviews. Mike's feature film Sleepwalk With Me comes out on August 24th (produced and co-written by Ira Glass).

Next, Ira told a story that took advantage of our ability to show visuals. It was about a photographer named Vivian Maier, who shot rolls of film every day for dozens of years - brilliant shots of street life - but never showed the photos to anyone. A guy named John Maloof discovered the negatives, and put out a book of Maier's photos. Rich Cahan and Mike Williams also appear in the story, and have another book of Maier's photos coming out in September. Miki Meek helped produce the story. Adam Beckman filmed the interviews. Becky Laks did video editing.

Then David Rakoff took the stage, to tell a very emotional story about dance and cancer. David is the author of several books, most recently Half Empty. At one point David left the microphone, seemingly walking off stage, then broke into dance. It was choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes, and set to Irving Berlin's "What I'll Do," performed by Nat "King" Cole.

After David's story, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass returned for a second dance piece, this time set to a live recording of James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being) a Sex Machine." As this photo indicates, it's not like a lot of modern dance that you'll see.

Somewhere in the building, a man was being put into clown makeup...

That man turned out to be David Sedaris, who told a funny story about getting really mad while waiting in line to buy coffee. David's most recent book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.

OK Go played one last song.

Then everyone came out for a bow.

And then we had a party. Because we couldn't quite believe we pulled this thing off.

Here is a Flickr gallery with 180 photos from the show.

Watch Mike Birbiglia's Short Film

May 15, 2012

Did you hear about the new short film that Mike Birbiglia created for the live show that we sent to movie theaters? It shows a surprising (and fictional) side of a media personality you might recognize.

Live show encore screenings in the U.S. and Australia

May 13, 2012

Our May 15th live show encore screening has come and gone, but there are still several independent venues in the US screening the show on various dates, as well as more than a dozen theaters in Australia hosting screenings on May 26th and 27th.

The show features stories by Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, plus live music by OK Go. It'll also include things you could never do on the radio, like a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, original animation, projected illustration and more. Plus special surprise guests (who may not be a surprise anymore but are still great!).

If you'll be attending and have a smartphone, we highly recommend you download our live show app!

Ira writes:

I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes' company, and I thought - that is totally in the style of our radio show. But obviously you can't have dance on the radio. Then I realized, we have to do another cinema event! We've built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things, including the dancers I saw, so it's going to feel like the radio show but also totally unlike anything we've done before. I really can't wait to see how it turns out.

(UPDATE: we think it turned out pretty great!)