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For the typical American household, nearly two months pass before a personalized letter sits in the mailbox among the usual catalogs and bills.

When considering the environmental drawback and informational delay linked to snail mail, sentimentality has taken a backseat to practicality. Passing doodled notes in class is riskier than a sneaky text message. Mailing love letters is far slower than a Skype or email to appease distanced relationships. And casual how’s-it-going-letters have been replaced by phone calls and pretty much everything online.

Still, there’s something irreplaceable about the pleasantly surprising handwritten letter. But from 2007 to 2013 alone, there’s been a 21 percent decrease in letter volume.

Imagine Virginia Woolf’s horror today, when in the 1940s she already mourned the decline of letter-writing in her essay, The Humane Art: “News and gossip, the sticks and straws out of which the old letter writer made his nest, have been snatched away. The wireless and the telephone have intervened. The letter writer has nothing now to build with except what is most private.” Nothing seems quite as rousingly secretive as a personalized note sealed in an envelope, federal law even protecting its content from unwarranted eyes. “The letter writer… speaks not to the public at large but to the individual in private,” she wrote—a concept that resonates in the era of mega-phonic tweets and too-revealing status updates.

Statistics, however, show this old-school deed is quickly going out of practice. One in five children in the UK has never received a handwritten letter, and one in ten has never written a letter themselves. And in the US, 150 billion letters are mailed annually, which may seem impressive until it’s compared to the 250 billion emails and 4 billion social-media messages sent daily.

The keyboard is quickly retiring the pen—a trend only solidified when considering the slow extinction of cursive. But when typed on a screen, our words seem slightly stripped of character, whether displayed in a quirky font or Times New Roman. Personalized penmanship, on the other hand, allows more individuality and ownership to seep through the message. A recent study showed there are also psychological benefits to taking a few minutes a week to write mere “thank you” notes. Two groups, each consisting of roughly 110 undergraduate students, filled out questionnaires concerning their well-being and general happiness. When one group was asked to write three letters of gratitude within a few weeks, they later reported significant improvement in overall satisfaction and happiness, whereas the other group—those who weren’t asked to write letters—returned feeling the same.

Psychological studies and statistics aside: Knowing that time and effort has been put forth in a handwritten letter makes it a memorable keepsake, something we’re more willing to hold on to.

Twenty-five years ago, The Utne Reader made a similar case. “Letters are acts of faith, because in a letter I disclose myself; I open my heart, trusting that the other will read and respond likewise with an open heart,” Robert Epstein wrote in a piece excerpted from East West. “Letters are seeds planted in an open heart that may one day grow into tall trees. And like trees, a sturdy letter can last a lifetime.”

Somehow a tucked-away box filled with letters still seems sturdier and simpler than a hard drive or the web—certainly more intimate.

Click to hear an NPR interview with avid letter-writers.

Image by dawgbyte77, licensed under Creative Commons.


LipstickA lot of intelligent women find themselves torn between dismantling the superficiality of “women's interest” magazines and buying into it. Wendy Felton is one of those women, and she uses her three-year-old Glossed Over blog to rant, rave, and dissect fashion spreads and stories from publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.

Felton doesn’t claim to be an expert (she’s a freelance writer and editor), but simply a fan of women’s magazines who is continually disappointed by their contradictory messages and incongruous advice. So why does she bother reading them? It’s a guilty pleasure “that lets me get juiced up on righteous outrage while simultaneously allowing me to ogle lip gloss and shoes.” The right mix of cynicism (one post is titled “Marie Claire editors were the girls I hated in high school”) and acknowledged shallowness makes her commentary, at once funny and incisive, relatable to a broad (if mostly female) audience.

Image courtesy of, licensed under Creative Commons.


Before the media imploded, journalists were allowed to spend months researching in-depth stories and exposés. Today, that style of journalism is “seen as taking too long and costing too much,” former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune James Warren writes for the AtlanticThe parasitic internet is to blame, according to Warren, where “attitude and attack are often valued more than precision and truth” and content is given away for free.

The problem that Warren doesn’t focus on is that newspapers, which still “serve as daily tip sheets for other media outlets,” were caught unprepared for the rise of the internet. It’s not as though they didn’t have time to adjust, back when they were still flush with cash. Here’s a video from 1981, when downloading a paper took more than 2 hours, and cost $5.00 per hour.


Al JazeeraDespite Al-Jazeera’s international reputation for serious investigative reporting, the company's English-language station has yet to find a cable provider in either the U.S. or Canada. 

The Canadian magazine This comments that “Canada can no longer afford to shun the world’s first truly global news network—especially one that is both steered and shaped by Canada’s best and brightest.”  Al-Jazeera English is, after all, broadcast in more than 140 million households and in at least 100 countries. Why is North America so far behind?

Al-Jazeera isn’t giving up easily. “The network’s inability to secure cable providers in the U.S., and the highly politicized battles to undermine its effort for access across the continent, have left it embattled but not defeated.”

Only in Toledo, Ohio and Burlington, VT has Al-Jazeera English found a home with a cable provider, although not without opposition. When viewers in Burlington complained that the station is anti-American and anti-Semitic, town hall debates raged and Al-Jazeera was taken off the air.  Recognizing that the station offers “alternative” perspectives, the city council eventually reinstated the channel. 

In the United States you can catch up on Al-Jazeera's website or on Link TV.

Source: This (article not available online)

Image by Joi, licensed under Creative Commons.



Fidel CastroWith umpteen publications commemorating the 50th anniversary of Castro’s Cuban Revolution, several newspapers are simultaneously waiting for the dictator to pass on. Editor & Publisher senior editor Joe Strupp gives a breakdown of the extensive plan the Miami Herald has in place for when Castro finally shuffles off this mortal coil.

According to Manny Garcia, the senior news editor for the Herald, Castro is “the journalistic equivalent of a kidney stone -- a constant pain who never seems to go away, and you pray that he passes, soon.” Morbid and a tad insensitive, maybe, but the fact remains that Fidel has stubbornly stayed alive and in power despite failing health and near-constant rumors that he’s suffered a heart attack or slipped into a coma or died in his sleep.

The preparation for the actual event of his death is of epic proportions. “The Cuba plan,” as Garcia calls it, is a three-ring binder filled with information and contact numbers necessary to the story. “The Cuba plan went on a Mediterranean cruise with my family. It's been to Barcelona, Rome, Vancouver, Disney World -- even down North Carolina's Nanthahala River -- safely tucked in a waterproof bag while my son and I rafted.” The Herald already has several different versions of Castro’s obit tailored to time of day or night, plus a range of photos from young to old and an in memoriam webpage ready to go online at a moment’s notice. And when Fidel dies, no matter what the staff members are doing, no matter where they are, everyone is under strict orders to report for duty.

Image by factor_, licensed under Creative Commons.


A new, yet-to-be-named, local website will be forming next year to fill in the gaps left by regional newspaper shutterings in the Bay Area. The nonprofit site nabbed a hefty donation—$5 million—from San Francisco businessman F. Warren Hellman, and its expertise and manpower will come from “KQED-FM, which has a 28–person news staff, and the 120 students of the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism,” the New York Times reports.

(Thanks, @MotherJones.)

Source: The New York Times


Series of tubesFinally, a social networking site aimed at the cranky old-school reporters who were forever bitching about “those Internets,” until they realized they were on the verge of losing their jobs to a bunch of 20-somethings with Facebook accounts who are willing to work for a Jimmy John’s sandwich and a free Internet connection. Ryan Sholin, of blogosphere renown, took pity on them and created Wired to help them learn about The Google. And judging from the turnout on the message board, it’s working. Onward, crusty journalists!

Morgan Winters

Image by monoglot, licensed under Creative Commons.

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