The Weekender, July 31, 2020


On both Monday and Tuesday of this week, I ran articles having to do with prison reform, at least in some limited sense. While I definitely am interested in the issue, the timing wasn’t something on my editorial calendar, for a very simple reason: I don’t have an editorial calendar. 

And that’s an understatement.

I don’t think most readers realize that so I’m going to share a little bit of my process with you today, or, more accurately, a glimpse into my lack of process. I often get asked questions like “How many articles do you have written and ready to go?” and “So, what do you have planned for tomorrow?” Usually, the answers to those questions are “zero” and “don’t know yet.” I typically don’t know what I’m going to write about until the night before I send out a newsletter.

That seems chaotic and perhaps irresponsible or lazy in a sense — you’d think that good planning is a necessary and important building block for a project like this. And if this were a multi-person publication — i.e. lots of writers and editors — I think not having any sort of editorial calendar or even editorial plan would doom the project. But this is just me.

My general guideline is simple: I write about whatever strikes me as interesting in the moment. (An aside: Grammarly, a real-time editing tool I use, says that should say “at the moment,” but I think I have it right as-written.) I look at some topics/ideas I’ve collected and, when one jumps out at me, I start writing, doing additional research, etc. 

As a result, you’re getting something that I found interesting in the moment, which I think tends to result in a better story. On the downside, there’s usually no rhyme nor reason as to why I chose a topic (with some clear exceptions) — and you get some odd coincidences like at the beginning of this week. 

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Politician Who Went to Prison. No, not that one. Or that one. This one is different!

Tuesday: The Holbrook Holiday. An interesting way to change the prison system?

WednesdayThe Color of Fraud. Red, in this case.

Thursday: Meet North Korea’s Traffic Lights: They have the human touch.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Million Dollar Nose” (The Atlantic, 72 minutes, December 2000). The subhead: “With his stubborn disregard for the hierarchy of wines, Robert Parker, the straight-talking American wine critic, is revolutionizing the industry — and teaching the French wine establishment some lessons it would rather not learn.”

2) “Meet the Man Who Sold His Fate to Investors at $1 a Share” (Wired, 13 minutes, March 2013). This seems like an unmanageably difficult idea, but… I guess it worked?

3) “The Last Meal” (Esquire, 19 minutes, June 2008). I may have shared this before; I thought I did, but I can’t find any evidence that I have. Here’s a preview:

Last I remember, I was on a plane, in a cab, in a hotel room—fluish, jet-lagged, snoozing. Then, by some Ouija force, some coincidence of foot on cobblestone, I came to a huge wrought-iron door. What brought me to France in the first place was a story I’d heard about François Mitterrand, the former French president, who two years ago had gorged himself on one last orgiastic feast before he’d died. For his last meal, he’d eaten oysters and foie gras and capon—all in copious quantities—the succulent, tender, sweet tastes flooding his parched mouth. And then there was the meal’s ultimate course: a small, yellow-throated songbird that was illegal to eat. Rare and seductive, the bird—ortolan—supposedly represented the French soul. And this old man, this ravenous president, had taken it whole—wings, feet, liver, heart. Swallowed it, bones and all. Consumed it beneath a white cloth so that God Himself couldn’t witness the barbaric act.

4) A bonus item: “How to spot a perfect fake: the world’s top art forgery detective” (The Guardian, 27 minutes, June 2018). The sub-head: “Forgeries have got so good – and so costly – that Sotheby’s has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert.” I shared this story in the June 22, 2018 Weekender as well, but rediscovered it when researching this Wednesday’s Now I Know, so I figured I’d re-share, too. Enjoy!

Have a great weekend!