Archive for January, 2006

Voices From Skid Row

Monday, January 30th, 2006

I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland. Now, I’m hardly from the mean streets of Baltimore, but any city resident knows how gritty the city can be, and growing up the son of a prosecutor, I knew it acutely. And one of the things I knew growing up was that our newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, sometimes pushed the hard realities of the city off its pages. The murder of a well-to-do white person is almost always news in Baltimore, but the Sun barely ever takes notice of the murder of a less well-off black person, and certainly almost never mentions it on the front page.

One of the reasons I’m fascinated by, and so happy to see, the rise of personal media is that sometimes our “Old Media” keeps the historically voiceless silent. Personal media is a way for all of us to circumvent the media filter, sure, but for the people who almost never find their way through the filter, personal media can be absolutely vital when used properly.

In Los Angeles, it’s kids who are leading the way, showing their elders how the stories of people traditionally ignored by society can now be told.

Franklin Arburtha was just 13 when he saw a friend’s mother stabbed to death. Afterwards, he went down to a vigil being held for the slain woman and, video camera in hand, asked people in his “Skid Row” community their feelings about the murder. That was the genesis for a 25-minute documentary he calls We’re Not Bad Kids. I caught a brief piece on Arburtha, now 14, on — you can read an interview with him here.

200 Years of Letters = An American History

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

I cannot think of a much better way to start a day then to wake up at a friend’s apartment in SF’s Potrero Hill after two days of taking notes and SMITH evangelizing at the Indy Press Association’s magazine conference, walk down the block to Farley’s coffeeshop—with the dogs on the sidewalk and cute and crunchy staff and great coffee and one of the best magazine racks ever ($14 later I walked out with a coffee, an organic ginger scone, the Saveur 100 issue, and the new issue of ReadyMade which I had already but will give away, especially as RM’s founder Shana Berger is not only one of the great women of all-time but would buy SMITH if she saw the new issue on a mag rack even she had that issue already), sit down with a gorgeous view of the city and then crack open the New York Times and—even before I had a chance to read Sports or Style be stopped in my tracks just below the fold with this headline: In 200 years of Family Letters, a Nation’s Story . Which is a long way of saying:

Beginning more than 200 years ago, Mr. Cowan’s family has kept the messages — people called them letters in those days — written to one another, as well as correspondence with eminent outsiders like Ralph Waldo Emerson, sermons given by preachers in the family and multipart essays sent home while traveling.

Historians and librarians say the collection is probably as remarkable for its intellectual vigor as for its age and size. It is essentially a dialogue of history: one well-educated, middle-class family’s long conversation, and its interaction with the issues that defined the early nation and its westward tide, including the abolitionist movement before the Civil War, the early rise of feminism and the discoveries of geology that were shaking religious assumptions about the age of the earth. The family’s writers talked all of it through, often at length. Letters of 10 to 12 pages were common.

One of the young descendants of the treasure said that the letters read like a novel that you can’t put down. you start one, and you just have to find out what happens next. The reverb on this find will be long and if done well amazing: imagine a Roots-style miniseries or searchable online archive. IM’s got nothing on one family’s 75,000 documents preserved in 200 boxes.

Caught up in the Frey fray + more (better) stories

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Ok. I just did something I’ve never done before. And I’m not proud of it. I left my desk in the middle of the day to go down in my living room, turn on the TV, and watch Oprah. I am caught up in the James Frey fray. Go ahead. Make fun of me. I deserve it.

I almost turned it off a few minutes after I turned it on because, as I had correctly suspected, there is a reason that I don’t watch Oprah in the middle of the day. (Or anytime of day.) It’s just not my kind of TV. But I left it on. Here’s what happened.

Oprah looked pretty good. She was really “embarrassed,” she kept saying. Tsk tsk James. Who wants Oprah mad at them?

James is a total nerd.

Richard Cohen
of the WP told us, “I’m only addicted to bagels.”

Nan looked nervous nauseous.

Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, basically summed it up, for anyone who’s confused. The truth is the truth and a lie is a lie. And we need the truth.

Then someone’s cell phone rang. (more…)

Batgirl Was Here.

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

I totally love Livejournal, and I think it beats blogs in general because it is so focused on feedback and community, and not so much on the publishing aspects, which of course it does too. In my opinion, you don’t get community without comments, which is really too bad, since feedback is the true revolution of blogs. (Cheap publishing tools we had before.)

So, here is my Livejournal find of the week: Batgirls.

Also, here’s a nice take from my favorite hoops blog, TrueHoop on life as a streetballer. It’s a nice taste of what life is like for those who continue to pursue their dreams outside of the NBA.

Makes me yearn for a chance to buy the Portland ABA franchise and travel up and down the West Coast with my team, playing ball in school gyms. I mean, if SI’s Alexander Wolff can start the Vermont Frost Heaves, there got to be some hope right?

I think I’ll call my team the PDX Weirdos (inside joke for Portlanders).


Monday, January 23rd, 2006

If you’ve recently bounced over here from the design, culture, and tech trend spotter Cool Hunting site—welcome! Those (clearly) discerning and delightful coolhunters wrote: “Now there’s a mag that’s unabashedly harnessing the infinite pool of online writing talent into one monthly publication. SMITH Magazine sits on the pulse of today’s cultural narrative.” Check out how cool we are here.

If you’re new, here’s how SMITH works.
• In this column we offer our blog, a rolling conversation about the personal media explosion and the making of a magazine about this golden age of storytelling.
• The middle column is all yours. This is your space, where you share your stories, sometimes responses to the stories in the magazine preview and other times new riffs on entirely new topics.
• The third column is living, breathing preview of our forthcoming print magazine. The best of your stories will appear in a future issue.

Above all, we want SMITH to be a conversation among readers, writers and editors. We say it over and over, and man do we mean it: Everyone has a story.

And: we’re all in this together.

Cool Hunting

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

coolhunting_01-23-2006.jpg SMITH magazine launches

Now there’s a mag that’s unabashedly harnessing the infinite pool of online writing talent into one monthly publication. Features, anecdotes, free-form stories, SMITH Magazine sits on the pulse of today’s cultural narrative.

Frey’s Million Little Skeptics

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

SMITH scooped the New York Times last week with our take on James Frey, examining some of the skeptical reviews from Amazon readers. Which is to say: sometimes, indeed many times, the best way to understand a story is from the ground up (the individuals) rather than the top down (the “experts”).

Beasties, Sundance, Blogging for Nerve

Friday, January 20th, 2006

No better day than Friday to ponder pop culture, especially the Friday when Sundance begins. I ran into my friend Bilge Ebiri, director of New Guy (like Office Space, but weirder), who uttered the following sentence, a sentence one could not have known would be possible just a few short years ago: “I’m on my way to Sundance to blog for“. Of course you are.

Screening at Sundance at midnight tomorrow is a flick I can’t wait to see—Awesome: I Fuckin Shot That. The Beastie Boys gave 50 fans (and five pros) Hi-8 Sony cameras during a concert in Madison Square Garden and essentially said: go nuts. A year of editing later, Awesome was born. Equally as genius: after they uploaded all the footage, the band returned the video cameras to the stores where they bought them. A producer of the movie calls it, “the democratization of filmmaking.” Sounds like a perfect hybrid of amateur meets professional, fans meets stars, a mix we at SMITH whole-heartedly support and will be doing with the folks that read and write for this site and future print magazine.

The SMITH Diaries

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

We’ll be launching weekly diaries from some people across the country in the middle of big life transitions—new towns, new jobs, new loves. Because for the past 10 years I have been obsessed with registering domain names (but that’s another story), I decided to register But wait! It was taken. Who? What? Where? A few clicks later, I learned of Cathy and the Family Smith, whose The Smith Diary is billed, “Good Times… …Great People.” Scrolling through their pics I’d have to agree.

SMITH magazine’s own diaries will be found on this site in a few weeks. We’re currently looking for someone who is thinking about changing religions and wants to document his or her process for the good readers of SMITH. If that person is you or someone you know, email me at

Remembering “The Play”

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

Here’s a great story from a 2002 issue of Stanford Magazine that revisits the most famous play in college football (especially if you’ve ever lived in the Bay Area). The writer caught up with several of the people involved, coaches, players, band members from both Cal and Stanford. It’s an interesting look back, and it’s always fascinating to see how people’s lives turned out afterwards.

WHEN HE WAS A FOOTBALL PLAYER at Cal, Kevin Moen had an opinion of Stanford Band members similar to that of most people from Berkeley: “I thought they were a bunch of flakes.” Until he ran into one.

His name was Gary Tyrrell, a trombonist and engineering major who wound up on the Memorial Stadium turf after Moen plowed into him in the end zone on November 20, 1982. The famous collision has become the most enduring image of “the Play,” in which a desperate Cal team, trailing 20-19, returned a kickoff and lateraled its way through the Stanford team—and Band—to defeat Stanford as time expired. In those frenetic few seconds, lives were changed, dreams were made and dashed, the Big Game was put on the national sports map, and two men were forever linked in Cal-Stanford lore.


SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.