Monday. 9/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Augustin Macellari

Wired for sound

For more than a century the Pulitzer prize has celebrated the great and good in the liberal arts. It recognises music, literature, poetry and photography but the Pulitzer’s real meat and potatoes has always been journalism. That it’s a US prize is entirely appropriate: it’s the Americans, after all, who took a low-brow medium and made it high. Sure, the boozy lunches of Fleet Street, foreign wars, hungry hacks and Chesterfields have a beguiling glamour but it took the Americans to make the business of reporting not just sexy but a form of literature.

This process of “embetterment” – to use an Americanism – represents the country’s relationship with media generally. In the absence of any particular historical tradition, the US has enthusiastically made the best of whatever medium crosses its path. The Pulitzer reflects this: not only has it spent a century celebrating the best in American journalism, it has adapted with the times. Now it’s brought a new discipline into the fold: the board has announced that it will be awarding a prize for the best in audio reporting.

Once more, the US has blazed a trail in turning real life into compelling stories. But before we get too carried away, it’s worth remembering that just as television didn’t begin with Netflix and House of Cards (the show first appeared on UK screens in 1990, albeit without Kevin Spacey), audio didn’t begin with NPR’s Serial. Radio, as our older readers will remember, is what we used to call podcasts – and it’s very much alive and kicking. So cin cin to the Pulitzer’s new prize and congratulations to its future winners. Let’s take a moment to remember the rich and ongoing tradition that is radio – and tune in, while we’re about it. You already know where to go: monocle.com/radio.

Geopolitics / Ukraine

Front-line diplomacy

The leaders of Russia and Ukraine, together with those of France and Germany, are meeting in Paris today to try to revive faltering peace negotiations between Kiev and Moscow. The so-called Normandy Four haven’t met for more than three years but hopes of finding a solution to the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine have been raised following the recent withdrawal of government forces and Russian-backed rebels from a village in the disputed Donbass region. At stake in the negotiations are issues involving demilitarisation, elections, border control and – further down the line – legislation to give the region special status. Experts say that prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough in Paris are slim but there could be progress on specifics, such as prisoner exchanges, movement across the makeshift front lines and economic links with the separatist enclaves. More than 13,000 people have died in the fighting so far – even such small steps should be celebrated.

Government / Argentina

Changing of the guard

Argentina will ring in the changes tomorrow as the South American nation swears in a new president. After one term it’s out with Mauricio Macri, the business-friendly former mayor of Buenos Aires – punishment for failing to halt the country’s rampant inflation and asking the International Monetary Fund (an organisation that still stirs rancour after the 2001/2 default) for another historic loan. In comes the leftist, Peronist duo of Alberto Fernández and his deputy Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the populist and decisive former leader who has faced a swathe of legal battles over corruption allegations. All eyes will be on the new economy minister, whose first order of business will be to stabilise the embattled peso and create a bit of economic optimism in the process.

Infrastructure / Philippines

Not fit for purpose

Does home advantage really make a difference in sport? Ask the Philippines. The hosts of the 30th Southeast Asian Games look set to top the medals table for the first time since 2005 – which was the last time it staged the 11-nation, multi-sport event. This time around, Filipino athletes have enjoyed a clear advantage: they have been able to stay close to their own beds as their competitors, who’ve flown in from across the region, have posted photos of half-finished facilities, while complaining of having to sleep on floors and go hungry. This and many other logistical problems during the build-up have left Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte red-faced. The tough-talking leader has ordered his own office to investigate, as well as launching a probe by the senate. Wednesday’s closing ceremony will provide a podium finish for the national team – before the investigations begin and a few more javelins are thrown.

Transport / Austin

Paved with good intentions

Austin’s Rainey Street was transformed into a pedestrian promenade at the weekend as cars were banned from the road to give more room to the crowds frequenting the thoroughfare’s famous bars and restaurants. It’s part of a pilot programme that will run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until March 2020. City hall has deemed the move essential as the area’s residential population booms. But neighbourhood groups say that more work should have been done prior to the trial: footpaths need to be improved and pedestrian crossings introduced. And – as we pass the 10th anniversary of the famous pedestrianisation of New York’s Broadway – they have a point. There, the city upgraded footpaths in Times Square to deliver a popular pedestrian refuge in Midtown. Perhaps Austin should cut to the chase and start making permanent improvements now.

M24 / Eureka

Snow Peak

Lisa Yamai is the executive vice-president of Snow Peak, the Japanese outdoor gear firm started by her grandfather in 1958. She joined in 2014 to lead the development of the company’s first ever clothing line.

Monocle Films / Global

Vital signs

From traditional calligraphy to rare gold-leaf techniques, hand-worked lettering is back in demand. Monocle Films meets three sign-painters whose eye-catching signs lend character to cities – and help businesses stand out.

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