Friday. 12/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Roving reporters

In a letter to its readers earlier this week the Miami Herald announced that it will give up its newsroom in August and its staff will continue to work from home. The paper said that thanks to technology the journalists on the team haven’t “skipped a beat” over the course of the past few months. As budgets shrink, the cost of running an office is something that many organisations will be reconsidering – with the promise of investing in people instead.

Abandoning the newsroom might help to save money but what will the paper lose in doing so? Meetings can be replicated on video-conference calls but offices also exist to bring people together beyond those strict time frames. They are spaces that allow for serendipitous conversations to happen; for overheard remarks to turn into ideas and opinions to be shared without the confines of a scheduled call. For plans and proposals to be questioned and sharpened.

For a news organisation in particular, these conversations aren’t just pleasantries: they are part of the creative process; they sit at the heart of a very collaborative effort that leads to a publication being put together. Investing in people also means investing in the spaces that allow them to feel happier. Interacting with colleagues has a positive effect on mood and creativity and – here’s the headline – that’s just as important as productivity.

Logistics / China

Freight leap forward

Airlines have cut passenger and cargo flights and sea trade has been reduced – but one mode of transport that seems to be doing well during these uncertain times is rail freight. And China’s infrastructure looks set to benefit from that more than most. Despite question marks over Sino-European relations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s increasingly aggressive tactics towards Hong Kong, cargo is currently up as much as 42 per cent along some China to Europe rail routes compared with the same period last year. A new Xi’an to Barcelona train service was launched in April with a journey time of just 18 days. The traffic isn’t just one way: as European businesses get back to work there’s increased demand from China for component parts from the West. It proves that despite frosty and complex relations, the necessities of global trade remain on track.

Society / Europe

History lesson

From Bristol slave-trader Edward Colston being toppled into the city’s harbour to Belgium’s King Leopold II being hoisted from his podium in Antwerp, we’ve seen Black Lives Matter protests sparking debate over the fate of statues that memorialise figures from Europe’s colonial past. Earlier this week, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced a review of the city’s statues that have links to slavery while the movement to take down a monument to arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes (pictured) at the University of Oxford has continued to gain momentum.

But what about how these statues relate to the world today? Indian writer and musician Amit Chaudhuri says that current inequalities and perceptions of “a new monied elite [have] generated a pent-up rage against these statues as symbols of a particularly closed society”. He told Monocle 24’s The Globalist: “What matters is that we find a new way of addressing our histories, a way that goes beyond the tick marks of diversity.”

Fashion / Japan

Mask force

With outdoor temperatures rising and many in Japan wearing masks, manufacturers here are rushing to develop less stifling face coverings. The country’s Meteorological Agency is predicting a particularly hot summer and medical experts are warning that masks, in their current form, might increase the risk of heatstroke. So companies that have never been in the mask business but use suitable technical fabrics are now swinging into action. Uniqlo, for example, is planning to use its breathable fast-drying fabric Airism for masks while sportswear brand Mizuno has started making them from the same stretchy material it uses for swimsuits and running gear; it sold 20,000 on the first day alone. One knitwear manufacturer in Yamagata can’t make enough of its reusable cloth masks, which are being sold alongside cold drinks in chilled vending machines. At a time when the company’s main clothing business is suffering, masks are providing a financial lifeline.

Design / Italy

Fully furnished

Aficionados of good furniture design are beginning to find new releases to sate their cravings. And judging by the work emerging from Italy’s top brands, the wait has been worthwhile. This week Cassina’s managing director, Luca Fuso, introduced Monocle to the Italian company’s new collection – a tour-de-force of reissues from industry luminaries such as Pierre Jeanneret and new works from contemporary designers including the brand’s artistic director, Patricia Urquiola. Many of her new pieces, such as the angular Sengu sofa, offer a tasteful Japanese twist on Cassina’s refined Italian carpentry and upholstery. The industry might have missed its annual mega-marketing event, Salone del Mobile, in April but the time has clearly been well spent refining good design. And the future? Well, according to Fuso, it’s “business as usual, no problem”. On and up, we say.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Explainer 219: Why has North Korea stopped talking to South Korea?

As North Korea halts all cross-border communication with the South in a row over propaganda balloons, Andrew Mueller wonders why Pyongyang has chosen this moment to get so angry.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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