YouTube Hunter: EPIC 2014 and the Future of Newsprint]

This month's Atlantic includes a fascinating article by Michael Hirschorn on what newspapers have to do to stay relevant in an increasingly diffuse, almost schizophrenic, media environment. We've got blogs and MySpace and YouTube and, shucks Jimmy!, however are newspaper supposed to stay afloat? Certainly, as everyone's been saying for some time now, the future doesn't look bright. Circulation figures are dwindling, younger generations haven¹t developed their parents' taste for broadsheet, blah blah blah barf. Being forced to read these same stories over and over is almost enough to make you throw in the towel and root for the Death of the Newspaper.

Occasionally, though, a piece of doomsday-ism comes around that is too entertaining to deny. EPIC 2014, which Hirschorn kicks off his article describing, is one. Produced in 2004, it foretells the death of old media at the hands of a hyper-personalized news disseminator run by Googlezon, which is what Google and Amazon call themselves after the predicted merger. Before watching the video, two quick notes: 1) Don't forget that everything after 2004, not 2006, is pure conjecture. 2) Thrill to the way the narrator gratuitously emphasizes certain words--"participatory journalism PLATFORM!" It's delightful and also a little creepy.

I wasn't kidding about the over-zealous narration, huh? Anyway, as tiresome as newspaper death stories are, solution-based ones can be fun, if for no other reason than you can look back three years from now and see how silly we all were for writing this stuff down. And that¹s precisely the kind of piece Hirschorn has written, and as smartly as can be expected.

His suggestion for staving off impending doom is this: newspapers should move the business of breaking original news"“"in the form of stories, postings, and community""“entirely to the web and leave the paper version for longer analytical pieces akin to the New York Times' occasional Washington Memos. It's a relatively simple and, it seems, inevitable step, since the public is getting increasingly used to reading and commenting on the news not every morning, but more like every minute.

I believe his specific proposal is unlikely to succeed, however. He says, by way of example, that the Times should give its music critic Kelefa Sanneh his own blog/social network so that he can post his own reviews, myriad thoughts, and the like, and his readers can respond in kind with their own reviews, myriad thoughts, and the like. That way Sanneh isn't bound by the strictures of a daily publishing schedule and can reach out to his readers whenever he has something to say. And, in turn, his readers can reach out to him. Interactive-errific! A number of studies suggest that readers respond to that kind of give-and-take, and, according to Hirschorn, almost every reporter would have his own blog: Dana Priest of The Washington Post would write about intelligence, Adam Nagourney of the Times on Washington scuttlebutt, etc.

My problem with this plan is that as much as it strokes my ego to think readers recognize bylines and would follow individual reporters to their own sites, I seriously doubt it¹s true. It's too much of a media world-centric point of view for me. I understand this is anecdotal, but whenever I mention the name Adam Nagourney to fellow journalists, they
instinctively respond, "Oh, you mean the guy who can't find enough ways to write a story about The Democratic Party In Turmoil?" But when I mention him to other people outside the bubble...crickets. It's natural. I can't name more than two hedge fund managers.

The idea of moving breaking news to the web is essential"¹especially, as Hirschorn notes, if newspapers wise up enough to "microchunk" the content, syndicate it, and get a share of the the ad revenue from sites that pick it up--but the parent companies would be a lot better off if instead of giving reporters their own blogs, they gave sections of the newspaper their own blogs. Say, intelligence.washingtonpost.com instead of danapriest.washingtonpost.com. In addition to combating the false sense of name recognition Hirschorn believes in, this approach would also be able to better harness the collaborative advantage newspapermen have over bloggers. It's not Dana Priest who makes all the phone calls and does all the research. She has an excellent research team, and she occasionally works with other reporters on the same story. Don't make her the star, make the Post's intelligence team the star. The site can still have all the social networking you want, but you'd be playing up your home court advantage. Plus, identifying a section of the paper rather than a single reporter is better for strengthening brand loyalty.

Using this approach"¹if we take a very rosy outlook"“might also help some of the mid-major newspapers that, according to media critic Jack Shafer, are too small to compete with the Times and the Post and too big to focus on the very local news that'll most likely keep the smallest papers alive. How? Let's use the Detroit Free Press as an example. They can scale back on some of their more expensive national and international coverage by picking up syndicated pieces not just from the AP, but from other papers, too. Then, they could put more resources into creating their own newspaper destinations that other papers would link to and they could earn syndication money from. The obvious example for the Free Press would be to generate the country's best automobile industry coverage. And in the same way, other mid-major papers would jockey for their own little
niches. Gardening for the Orlando Sentinel, for instance, or travel for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Papers fill be scrambling to these gaps, and as a result of market forces, the quality of journalism would have to get pretty high to become a niche leader. I, for one, am dying for a Pulitzer-winning gardening story. Where are you, Orlando?

Okay, all this is just a start. The issue is obviously complicated enough to write a book about. But I want to know what you think. Am I crazy? Is there anything you agree with me on? Do you have any other ideas on how newspapers are going to survive the next ten years? Let me know.

And I promise to write about something totally frivolous next week.

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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