Before Circulation

Alex French and Howie Kahn’s “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” recounts the early 1990s sports news startup The National Sports Daily during its short, experimental, and ultimately failed run. Mexican billionaire Emilio Azcárraga dreamed up the grandiose plan for the paper, which aspired to provide national coverage and achieve widespread circulation, with much of the writing done by the best-known sports writers of the moment.

The story is worth a read for a couple of reasons. First, it offers a semi-coherent narrative woven not through co-authorial smoothing of transitions (think: prose cortisone shots) but instead by the arrangement of discrete interview snippets. That is, the story is parsed and assembled (more than conventionally written) from a cacophony of contributors who were directly involved with the experiment. Second, contributors (or interviewees?) say over and over that the failure of The National was caused not by the quality of the writing or the innovative vision but by the business side (sales and ad revenues unequal to expenses). I understand the failure was as much a matter of technological infrastructure–the fact that the publishers were attempting to route content from various cities to printing houses using sattelite transmissions that were just too slow. One anecdote has staffers accessing the sattelite equipment on the roof to knock ice and snow off of it with hopes of improving relay speeds. Basically, The National was the right idea in the wrong year. A third reason for reading: this story rolled out on Bill Simmons’ new ESPN-sponsored sports writing site, Grantland, which, considering its renowned writers and editors, amounts to a modern day equivalent of The National. Grantland is, in effect, The National twenty years later.

I suppose “The Greatest Newspaper That Ever Died” will not be all that surprising to anyone who remembers The National‘s hype. But the story of The National is promisingly rivaled, to my mind, by the subtext here about the forces inhibiting fast, large-scale circulation for news. Sure, hindsight makes it easy for us to know all about this now, but the story (a play-by-play, really) condenses and suspends that tension–right idea, wrong year–holding it up like a Jordan-era floater for a compelling sense of that-was-then.

Method’s Con-trails

Caught a small
blip of discussion
yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth


the lost city of Atlantis
. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania,


It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth
including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown
species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data
collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often
collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact
that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how
little we really know about the world’s oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn’t interest me all that much.
Instead, I’m struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic"
tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others
have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like ‘beyond
ways’, even ‘ways
beyond’; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of
"bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don’t we see these in the adjacent
areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process,
translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?

Robert Sarmast
elaborated on the image’s trail-grid, noting:

The lines you’re referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the
underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it
zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly
underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the
ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire
grid. I’ve checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist
and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid’s unevenness, its predetermination, the
inability of the sonar devices to see (erm…hear) directly below. And
yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle
allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without.
Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?


Before touring the old Santa Ana Pueblo a week ago on Thursday morning, again and again
we were reminded that no photography was allowed. Also, no sketches, no
recording of sounds. The rationale for this goes directly to simulacrum
and the sacred: the ground itself and all activities upon it remain contained,
singular, rare. When reproduction and representation are banned, the site does
not suffer from diffusion but instead remains intact. On the tour to
the Zia Pueblo a few years ago, there was
a similar admonition. There, a
sign was posted in front of the church. Something like, "Any recording or
reproduction at this site is punishable by a fine of $3,500."

Continue reading →