A news aggregator I frequent – after providing "astronomy" as key word for one of its customized-news tricks – this morning came up with this. Initially I thought it was telling me something new. Plus, the picture, above, caught the eye. Instead, it led nowhere that makes sense but sure does provides evidence that bylines, once upon a time near-sacred prizes to the rare reporter who earned one, not only adorn stories as short as one paragraph these days but have with some publishers lost meaning altogether.
- Nature World News – James A. Foley: " Thirty Meter Telescope to be Most Powerful Telescope in History [VIDEO] ;
First off, don't confuse this with any news operation by Nature Publishing Co. I cannot, however, find an "about us" link at the above page nor anything, not even a Wikipedia entry, to provide a hint. The story appears to be a rewrite of the info in the story's embedded video, a p.r. handout from the big multinational consortium, led by Caltech and UC Berkeley, that is in early stages of building a humongoous optical and infrared telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The video's executive producer is TMT p.r. man and longtime member of the science journalism and promotion clan, Charles Blue. Perfectly good and eye-popping promo video it is. It introduces the public, via lots of digital video preenactments, to this historic project in a professional manner. But nothing in it qualifies as new news – the telescope has been the topic of many stories that go much deeper than this Nature World News offering. Why publish it, other than to attract readers' eyes to ads?
Second, who wrote the copy? I don't believe this James A. Foley is the same war correspondent James Foley who last year went missing in Syria. So, who? I cannot find a bio to link to his name. One supposes him, or perhaps a group of hims all with the same byline, to be a churnalist – rewriting stuff coming in over the transom, putting James A. Foley on it, and moving on. James A. Foley is one productive byline. Here are the link-embedding headlines from stories filed under it in the last two days:
Today: Black Bears Back in Missouri after Successful Reintroduction Program , Casanova Critters: Male Bats Use Smooth Lovesongs to Attract Mates, Ocean Biota Mapped in first Atlas of Marine Plankton ; Desert Salt Flats Could be Key to Future of Hydrogen Fuel Production ; 'Artificial Bone' Generated from Umbilical Cord Stem Cells , Monsanto to Abort its Pursuit of More GM Crops in Europe ; David Attenborough: UK Butterfly Populations at Historic Low , Snow Line Observed in Distant, Infant Planetary System ,
Yesterday: Flesh-eating Maggots Found in UK Woman’s Ear , 'Out-of-Control' Fungus-cultivating Beetle is Wrecking Avocado Crops , Steam Rising from Crippled Fukushima reactor Causes Concern ; New Wetsuit Design may Save Lives by Tricking Sharks [VIDEO] , Potato Famine Pathogen More Infectious Now than Ever , Ancient Mayan Monument reveals Story of Little-known Princess , Discoverer of Neptune's New Moon likes 'Polyphemus' for a Name,
I imagine Mr. Foley could write two features and a dozen sidebars in the time it took me to cut and paste those heds and links into that list. Somewhere out in tracker land we no doubt have somebody who knows all about operations such as Nature World News. One wonders what it pays, if anything, for the intellectual property it slams together. I scroll through enough feeds to know that several of those stories up there concern news that is circulating in more transparent media as well. Anyway, the 30 meter telescope is the real deal and the video is fine, even the copy scrunched together by Nature World News reads decently. But in the air something rotten blows.
Want another strange but exciting telescope story that leads one on a different but equally meandering path?
- Wired – Adam Mann: The Private Plan to Put a Telescope on the Moon ; This is far more conventional, legit journalism. It catches readers up on related entrepreneurial projects to establish courier services in space and also to build an automated observatory on the rim of Shackleton Crater very near the lunar south pole. From there, the sun circles along the horizon almost constantly to provide solar power, Earth would be visible as well hence easy to reach without satellite relay stations, and radio and optical telescopes could study space all the time. Links are in the piece, too, such as to an outfit called the International Lunar Observatory Association, in a package that provides a good deal of useful information. This is old fashioned gee whiz astro news, and Mann does put in a dash of skepticism about the plan's prospects.
Ah, but what's not in the story? Well, it says that a man named Steve Durst is the ILOA's founder and director. The ILOA website identifies him as publisher of Space Age Publishing Company and a resident of Hawaii, perhaps not far from the 30-meter telescope's home-in-the-making on the Big Island. A search for further information on Mr. Durst reveals this more fascinating trove:
- Slideshare.net – Steve Durst: ILOA Galaxy Forum Chile 2013 ;
That goes to a slideshow, one of several similar iterations of a program that Mr. Durst has presented in the last few years while driving the project forward. Adam Mann's account includes the picture embedded a few inches up. And you know what you find in that slideshow? An artist's imagined scene like the one just above this spot except that there is a person in a space suit standing there too. OK then, these would be space tycoons (did I mention they think they might be landing stuff on the moon in just three or four years? Wow, as in… how? Anyway, scouting for yet more information yields this second rendering. If I knew how this blog software fits pictures in gracefully, I'd do it better. It is from another of Durst's slide shows on the web, but a version is also in that immediately preceding bullet's link. So that's how the mechanic would get to work. That is one zippy space hover buggy. The hell with jet packs and wing suits we already got, this is really rich. A ride such as this deserved a story just for the dare-deviltry of it. Put a few of these things on the moon and zillionaires would be lining up for a ride in the rumble seat.