Comments: Week of April 7, 2014

1. The fourth annual “Yesteryear” issue examined a century’s worth of New York City pop-music history, from Al Jolson to Lady Gaga (100 Years of Pop ­Music,” March 24–April 6). “Insanely phenomenal. Stunning,” tweeted @nellywaits. (Of course, many readers felt their personal music heroes didn’t get enough attention: “Madonna deserves much more!”) Others were more excited about the covers of the issue—we published eight different versions with portraits of eight different musicians. “OMG look at him! He looks so cute!” tweeted @HeyitsK99 about the Jay-Z cover shot. “Awww, this is when I met young homie,” tweeted dream hampton. “Cover of the year candidate and its only March,” added @HuffPostVandy. “Like ‘buttah,’ Hello Gorgeous,” wrote @channingposters about Barbra Streisand’s retro portrait. And Streisand herself wrote in to object to the entry about her decision to change the spelling of her first name by eliminating an “a,” which quoted an interview she’d done decades ago in which she’d said “Barbara” had more Brooklyn in it than “Barbra.” “It simply isn’t true,” Streisand wrote. “The truth is I didn’t want to change anything about myself like my nose, my teeth, my clothes, whatever. But I wanted to have something original, so I took out the second ‘a’ from Barbara and became Barbra, which is the same name only without an A, and it looked a bit ­different and unique.”

2. Nitsuh Abebe’s look inside the offices of feel-good viral-content juggernaut Upworthy prompted a lively discussion among journalists and media watchers about the site’s oft-scorned earnestness (Racism Bad. Eat Kale,” March 24–April 6). “Nice piece that gets at what’s wrong about all the media snark,” tweeted Matt Yglesias of Vox. “Wished for more here about the shallowness of Upworthy’s politics,” wrote Jacob Silverman. “Feel-good liberalism as self-help.” And Maura Johnston tweeted: “I guess I just find ‘mothers think we’re cool’ to be a deeply cynical thing for someone running a viral empire to say.” Over the course of several tweets, David Sirota of PandoDaily went deep on how we view content-aggregators: “I like Upworthy, but it’s weird that few mention it doesn’t produce anything. It monetizes others’ work for itself. Point is: Sites claiming to be the future of media/journalism yet not producing anything original aren’t the future. Idea: Stop using term ‘curators’ & use ‘promoters’ or ‘PR.’ Promotion and PR are not worthless. They’re important! But dressing them up as ‘curation’ is deceptive. And let me conclude by saying I like @Upworthy because at least they are PR for others’ work that has a social value.” And, at Flavorwire, Tom Hawking wondered just how much “social value” Upworthy was producing. “I don’t think we have to hate Upworthy to question whether its method of getting Americans to ponder such issues is not without its problems,” he wrote. “Foremost among these is that there really isn’t a whole lot of pondering going on. It tells you what you’re supposed to feel; one of the key elements of the headline style is that you’re left in no doubt as to how you’re meant to react to what you watch when you click through. Upworthy’s entire raison d’être is a sort of conviction that people aren’t fundamentally bad, so why assume they’re fundamentally stupid or uncaring?

3. Robert Kolker’s article detailing the life of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo before he ran away from his Queens school struck a special chord with parents of autistic children (The Life and Death of Avonte Oquendo,” March 30). “My 2-year-old son also loves to run. He got away from me once when he opened a door that I assumed was way too stiff for him to move,” wrote one commenter. “I was hysterical. Every parent of an autistic child can relate to this.” “Even in my affluent, relatively small suburban school district, every year I’d have to ­remind the staff that my older son has ­Tourette’s syndrome,” shared another. “This story is heartbreaking. I ache for how much his family must miss him.” “My nonverbal autistic son is in an amazing school district where his teachers, aides, and support staff all know his needs and blind spots,” noted another parent. “While he isn’t a runner, if my son wants something he is going to pursue it. All it takes is for one guard or hall monitor to be distracted for a few seconds for this tragedy to be repeated.” “I taught for an after-school enrichment company where I had special-needs ­students in several classes,” offered an educator. “One of them—talented, well-­behaved, liked by the other kids—liked to wander off. Looking for him once was one of the more stressful experiences of my life.

Correction: The portrait of a young Jay-Z, one of eight covers of our “Yesteryear” issue (March 24–April 6), originally identified by the photographer as having been taken in 1997, was in fact shot in 1987.

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Comments: Week of April 7, 2014