the audit

Audit Notes: Journal Greatness, The Shallows, Fortune Too Kind

May 28, 2010

The Wall Street Journal drops part two of its series on how the BP catastrophe happened. I praised yesterday’s devastating investigation of BP corner-cutting here. Today’s is also outstanding—a cinematic reconstruction of the events that destroyed the Deep Horizon.

And look! A classic Journal leder gets a classic Journal headline:

There Was ‘Nobody in Charge’

After the Blast, Horizon Was Hobbled by a Complex Chain of Command; a 23-Year-Old Steps In to Radio a Mayday

And a classic WSJ nutgraf:

An examination by The Wall Street Journal of what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the explosions suggests the rig was unprepared for the kind of disaster that struck and was overwhelmed when it occurred. The events on the bridge raise questions about whether the rig’s leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency and for evacuating the rig—and, more broadly, whether the U.S. has sufficient safety rules for such complex drilling operations in very deep water.

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I’d note that the lede byline on this is Doug Blackmon, who led the paper’s coverage of the Katrina disaster, including an epic reconstruction of how that disaster unfolded.

Read the whole piece, which the Journal gives 3,000-plus words and a double-truck spread. And then make sure you read part one, too. This is the kind of Pulitzer-level stuff that’s been in all-too-short supply from the paper in the last couple of years.

More, please!

— If you needed another reason to shut off the Internet for the Memorial Day weekend, Wired excerpt’s Nicholas Carr’s new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

As you can probably tell from the title, Carr thinks we’re changing our brains in ways that are often detrimental.

A 2007 scholarly review of hypertext experiments concluded that jumping between digital documents impedes understanding. And if links are bad for concentration and comprehension, it shouldn’t be surprising that more recent research suggests that links surrounded by images, videos, and advertisements could be even worse.

In a study published in the journal Media Psychology, researchers had more than 100 volunteers watch a presentation about the country of Mali, played through a Web browser. Some watched a text-only version. Others watched a version that incorporated video. Afterward, the subjects were quizzed on the material. Compared to the multimedia viewers, the text-only viewers answered significantly more questions correctly; they also found the presentation to be more interesting, more educational, more understandable, and more enjoyable.


In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

The whole piece is fascinating. Highly recommended.

— The press is far too kind to Warren Buffett, as we’ve written before, but this is a little too much even by its normally fawning standards:

Provided that the commission members ask intelligent questions and don’t try to grandstand, this writer predicts that Buffett will enjoy the hearings as well. I also predict that, despite his doubts about this matter, the commission will gain from hearing his views. Most people do.

The author, Carol Loomis (a great journalist, by the way—ever read her mid-1990s warning on derivatives?), is good pals with Warren Buffett and writes edits his annual letter to shareholders. But I doubt most readers know that. And Fortune doesn’t disclose it until the 21st paragraph of a 24-graph story. That’s not good enough.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.