Author: Bobbie Johnson

The value of questions that are hard to answer

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One of the problems that excites me most in journalism is what you do when you’re presented with a lack of information. It’s been the genesis of some of the most interesting projects I’ve worked on, including Ghost Boat (“how can you find people who disappeared?”) and the MITTR Covid Tracing Tracker (“who is doing what with digital contact tracing?”) So I was really interested by this Buzzfeed investigation that effectively asked “Where are China’s […]

Week 35, 2020

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TOUGH WEEK. Almost six months into lockdown, the wildfires encircle San Francisco and fill the skies with smoke. Suddenly even the limited ways we are able to go out into the world have become a bad idea. Some days are better than others, but the mornings are nearly always the worst; the smell of smoke invades everything, a blanket of smog sits in the sky and my chest stretches to grasp at the air. Combine […]

The blindness of media

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There are many pieces about the problems of journalism, and of journalists, and Sarah Ditum has certainly written one of them. I hesitated to post it because at some points it felt tritely rosy about life in the trenches of journalism before the internet, and at others it’s stuck in a stage of pseudo-self-awareness as an example of the very thing that it regrets. The seemingly mandatory piece of thinly-veiled commentary on outrage culture didn’t […]

Week 33, 2020

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Books I read: Unintentionally, both my reads this week were about the ways in which men dominate women, and the ways in which rules can be made to damage people. First up was The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s probably 20 years since I read it—I was struck by how vibrant and clear it felt, and of course how much more possible everything seems now than when I read it in the glow of turn-of-the-century optimism. […]

Week 32, 2020

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A WEEK OF SMALL VICTORIES, none of which I can really talk about yet—but some projects pushed forward and some assignments came together that I’m excited about. There were some frustrations, too, mainly about trusting my instincts. On a personal front, things have gone very quiet: we’re holding it together, just about, but the summers in San Francisco are the greyest time of the year. In the meantime, reading list ticked up another two. Finished […]

Arundhati Roy on the pandemic

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Only just found this extremely salient piece from April: Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can […]

Gary Younge on Europe vs America

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I’ve never read anything better, more lucid, on the difference between racism in America and Europe than this Gary Younge essay in the New York Review of Books. He’s particularly sharp on the reasons that the troubles of Black Americans get much more attention in Europe than the troubles of Black Europeans. So much is quotable, but here are a couple of lines that hit. From the vantage point of Europe, which both resents and […]

Ancient bum wiping

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“The Romans had two primary ways to clean themselves post-bathroom break. Option one? A tool called a tersorium, which was “used to clean the buttocks after defecation.” Imagine a loofah, but made of fresh sea sponge, attached to a wooden rod—similar to back-washers sold in drugstores today. After using the stick to aim and the sponge to wipe, the person would dunk the sponge in a bucket full of water or vinegar to clean it off […]

Week 31, 2020

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THIS LAST MONTH feels like things have been closing in. The limits haven’t changed, just my ambition to challenge them. Not leaving the house isn’t a temporary situation any more; it’s now the normal state—things could be happening a block or two away without me ever realizing. (In fact, they are happening without me realizing: I hit up the local news websites to discover that a new bar is opening on Haight, just a stone’s […]