A paralyzed man made it up El Capitan using only his arms

From Jack Dolan at the LA Times: “Dangling from a thin rope thousands of feet above Yosemite Valley last October, Zuko Carrasco could feel his arms tremble. A paraplegic who had lost the use of his legs eight years earlier in a bizarre accident — a trust fall gone awry — he had spent a week ascending El Capitan, the world’s most famous big wall rock climb, one tiny pull-up at a time. A “good pull” moved him up about 4 inches. He would need to perform something like 9,000 of them to reach the summit. Along the way, he suffered dehydration, searing blisters and, at times, soul-crushing doubt. He shivered in the early morning and baked in the midday sun. That was the worst because the injury that paralyzed him from the waist down also prevented him from sweating properly, adding heatstroke to the long list of mortal dangers he had to contend with.”

Unravelling the mystery behind a tiny village at the center of a giant crater on Madagascar

From Vox, via Kottke: “Right in the center of the island nation of Madagascar there’s a strange, almost perfectly circular geological structure. It covers a bigger area than the city of Paris — and at first glance, it looks completely empty. But right in the center of that structure, there’s a single, isolated village: a few dozen houses, some fields of crops, and dirt roads stretching out in every direction. When we first saw this village on Google Earth, its extreme remoteness fascinated us. Was the village full of people? How did they wind up there? And what did life look like in such a strange geography? To find out, we teamed up with a local team in Madagascar and fell down a rabbit hole of geology and mapping along the way. It’s a story of how continental shifts and volcanic geology came together to form a place for a group of people to call home.”

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I wish I could say that The Messenger’s failure came as a surprise

The Messenger, a news startup that Jimmy Finkelstein launched last spring with $50 million in funding and 175 journalists stationed in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, has shut down less than a year later, after running out of money. When it launched, the company said it would bring in more than $100 million in revenue this year, but by the end of 2023 it had less than $2 million of its initial funding left, and just $3 million in revenue. Earlier this month, Semafor reported that The Messenger‘s board of directors had considered shutting it down, since it was expected to run out of cash soon. And soon is now.

Coming as it does amidst a litany of layoffs and shutdowns in the media— including broad cuts at Time magazine, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Business Insider —it’s tempting to see The Messenger‘s sudden shutdown as yet another symptom of a broader media decline. But this particular death is in a category by itself. Yes, the ad downturn and other macro effects no doubt had an impact, but The Messenger was doomed from birth. As I noted in a piece for CJR when it launched, its entire model felt like a blast from the past—and the past is about the only place where it might have survived.

From Finkelstein’s evocation of the glory days of Walter Cronkite and Vanity Fair to the hiring of Neetzan Zimmerman, a specialist in generating “viral” traffic, The Messenger seeemed almost prehistoric. As I wrote for CJR, the startup’s model seemed to be “harking to a time when social traffic from vast quantities of viral clickbait articles could bring in millions of dollars in advertising revenue.” Those days, as BuzzFeed could no doubt testify, are gone. And the route that The Messenger chose to get there clashed with its lofty goals. Jon Christian, the editor of Futurism, wrote that despite its talk about revolutionizing journalism, the site was “churning out viral dumpster juice” from day one.

Note: This was originally written for the Columbia Journalism School, where I am the chief digital writer.

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An atheist chaplain and a death row inmate

From Emmie Goldberg for the NYT: “There is an adage that says there are no atheists in foxholes — even skeptics will pray when facing death. But Hancock, in the time leading up to his execution, only became more insistent about his nonbelief. He and his chaplain were both confident that there was no God who might grant last-minute salvation, if only they produced a desperate prayer. They had only one another. The two spoke at least once a week, and sometimes multiple times a day. Mostly, they talked over the phone, and provided recordings of these conversations to The Times. Sometimes it was in person, in the prison’s fluorescently lit visitor room, over bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

She set a new record by spending five hundred days alone in a cave

From D.T. Max for The New Yorker: “In 2021, just after lockdowns in Spain ended, Flamini thought about coming down from the mountains. But her real desire was to go somewhere more remote: the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia. Only one European had ever crossed it alone on foot, she’d learned. She moved to northern Spain and began training for the Gobi expedition by hiking steep mountain trails while carrying a backpack weighed down by bottles filled with water. She soon decided that she was prepared physically but not mentally. Flamini thought about test runs that might prepare her for the solitude of the Mongolian desert. Spending time in a cave, she decided, could provide useful lessons.” 

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