Where the team behind MATTER write about writing about the future.

April 2, 2013 at 4:10am

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MATTER #5, Ghost in the Cell, is now available on Amazon’s Kindle Singles store — for readers in the US and the UK.

MATTER #5, Ghost in the Cell, is now available on Amazon’s Kindle Singles store — for readers in the US and the UK.


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The New York Review of Books covers MATTER #4, Uprising  →

By way of a post on the blog by Bill McKibben


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New methods of distributing labour online can be very radical and important… but most of the time, we’re simply using connectivity to redistribute work back to ourselves.

— Bobbie on "self-publishing and saving labour", inspired by Charlie Stross.

March 29, 2013 at 1:21pm

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Ghost audiobook is live!

If you prefer to listen to your MATTER stories, then good news: the audiobook of our latest, The Ghost in the Cell, is now live!

Audiobooks are available for Members only: Just look for the image link on the page — it’s just below the headline, alongside our ebook and Pocket links — and click to start listening or to download. 

This edition is read by Nicky Barber. We hope you enjoy it.

March 28, 2013 at 4:44am

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One of those rare times when you get to hear someone a real journalism entrepreneur talk about what has worked and what hasn’t with their start-up.

— A note on Bobbie’s Hacks/Hackers London talk, taken from an insightful post by Kevin Anderson on the future of investigative journalism.

March 27, 2013 at 3:05am

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Further reading on The Ghost in the Cell


At the end of each MATTER piece, we give you a list of references — both academic papers that relate to the story and further reading if you’re eager to find out more about the topic we’ve covered.

This month our further reading included a Scientific American piece by Eric Nestler, whose work we refer to, on the "hidden switches in the mind" ($). Then there’s this Nature piece on epigenetics and a New York Times column on "why fathers really matter".

But of course it doesn’t stop there.

Reader Briggio pointed out this TIME story on a study showing women who were abused as kids are more likely to have children with autism, and there’s also an intriguing study on inherited traits in plants.

If you’ve got more tips for readers to get stuck in, then send them over — either here, on Facebook or via Twitter.

March 25, 2013 at 2:39am

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I must confess it was heartening to see “business model wrangling” feature as part of a Hacks/Hackers talk, where often excitement about an editorial goal or a technology technique can overshadow the brutal need to pay for things.

— Martin Belam on Bobbie’s talk last week at Hacks/Hackers London.

March 22, 2013 at 6:18am

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Announcing MATTER #5: ‘Ghost in the cell’


It’s hard for most of us to comprehend a story like Yokia Mason’s. Her father took his own life when she was a baby. Her mother was a violent alcoholic, as was her grandmother. Both women beat Yokia and her siblings. Childhood, she says, was all about surviving.

Now Yokia is trying to make sense of the toxic legacy of her upbringing — and so are some of the world’s top scientists. Over the past few years, a small band of researchers has begun to argue that child abuse doesn’t just cause psychological damage — it also leaves its mark on victims’ biology too, changing the way their cells work. If they’re right, we will need to change the way we think about childhood trauma, violence and perhaps even personal responsibility.

MATTER’s fifth piece, “Ghost in the cell”, weaves the extraordinary story of Yokia’s life into an examination of new results from epigenetics, the field that is producing these new ideas. It’s the work of Scott Johnson, a former war reporter who has worked for Newsweek in Afghanistan, Iraq and central Africa.

The piece is live on our website right now and will be available soon on Amazon and elsewhere. If you’re not sure, why not check out a preview?


Meanwhile, Members can access an audio version in the next few days and, as always, we’ll be inviting everyone who reads the story to a Q&A with the author — check your email in a couple of weeks for a heads-up on that.

March 21, 2013 at 3:08am

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Ask not what the crowd can do for you…

Last night I spoke at the Hacks/Hackers London meet up as previously advertised. Others on stage included John Bracken of the Knight Foundation (via Skype) and David Leigh, the award-winning investigations editor of The Guardian. The subject? Business models for journalism.

It’s obviously a big, scary topic. It’s also one where people don’t actually share very much, so it was edifying to hear (and speak) about terrible things like spreadsheets and expenses and sustainability. And what’s clear is that there are no answers and many answers all at once: John admitted that Knight wanted to do more to make journalism projects viable beyond its philanthropy; David outlined a future of donor-sponsored investigative journalism that was both important and terrifying (because, as he pointed out, free-spending donors suddenly have a lot of indirect power over editorial).

(photo courtesy of Juhi_Tweets)

I chipped in by talking about how, at MATTER, our relationship with our supporters has helped us test and improve what we do as a business and a service — and all with sustainability in mind: things like our Kickstarter campaign, of course, but also product development (supporter feedback is why we added audiobooks for our Members, but have stepped back from offering them deals) and (with our co-piloting programme and our collaborative commissioning process). It was a lot of fun and people seemed to get something out of it.

Best thing about the night, though, was the tremendous audience. They were full of great questions and helpful advice about ways we could make our payment services work better for us, get stories funded, and try to push what we do in new and interesting directions.

Watch this space.

March 19, 2013 at 3:03am

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Phil McKenna on Uprising, part II

In the first part of our reader Q&A with Uprising author Phil McKenna, he discussed how the idea for the story came about. Now he talks about the editorial process.

From the time you started reporting to the final edit, did you find that your initial thesis changed? Became more nuanced? If so, how?

Hardly a week went by where Ackley and Phillips didn’t make some new exciting discovery on gas leaks or the role gas played in killing trees. At the same time Ackley was embarking on these epic road trips across Pennsylvania’s fracking country finding really high methane concentrations where there shouldn’t have been any leaks.  

At times it was hard to figure out what it all meant and what were the key turning points, but the initial thesis — gas may be worse than coal and this odd couple, the gas man who struggled to do the right thing, and the professor, were off to find the answer — never changed. 

Can you talk a little bit about the editing process? How different is the final piece from your first submitted draft?

I filed my initial draft for Dan Baum and Margaret Knox in August 2012. They had me write the story in chronological order from start to finish just as Dan would file any story for the New Yorker. The end result, with significant editing from Dan and Margaret, was unlike anything I had written before and was superb.

By the time the story was slated to run in February, however, it was already a bit stale. Bobbie and Jim rightly had me do additional reporting, including a trip to DC, to bring the piece up to date. More significantly, they felt the story needed to cut to the chase quicker than could be done in a strictly chronological telling.

The piece was restructured significantly resulting in a piece as good if not better than the original edit and I think a better fit for MATTER.  Readers will invest in a slow build-up piece if it is in the New Yorker because they know the payoff will be worth their while. I think a new publication launching in the age of Twitter, however, has to be more upfront about its significance and where the story is heading to draw in new readers.

• Uprising is available to read now online, for MATTER Members, or through Amazon’s Kindle Store.