better journalism through technology

In a previous post I linked to an article at programming historian called “Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown”, written by a couple of historians trying to encourage their colleagues to move away from bloated, proprietary word processing tools and towards plain text work flows.

When they say sustainability in that piece, what they are talking about is the preservation of the work itself:

Plain text both ensures transparency and answers the standards of long-term preservation. MS Word may go the way of Word Perfect in the future, but plain text will always remain easy to read, catalog, mine, and transform... Plain text is backwards compatible and future-proof. Whatever software or hardware comes along next, it will be able to understand your plain text files.

This is all true! Plain text is a more durable and versatile standard. If you write in plain text formatted with Markdown, you can easily convert it into other formats whenever you like.

But because it is so lightweight, it is more sustainable in other senses.


It is at once 1. An hilarious and (for now) topical pun 2. Grub Street was, historically, an impoverished neighborhood in London peopled by sometimes-dodgy publishers and the hack writers who provided content to them. “Grub” even became a synonym for said hack writers. 3. A “stack” in the parlance of the technology industry is a collection of software and/or hardware assembled for a particular purpose.


Update 2021-04-26: I wanted to link readers to this fantastic post at Programming Historian, “Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown”, by Dennis Tenen and Grant Wythoff. It's aimed at an academic audience but it makes some of the same points I do below, but more elegantly. I had intended to link in the original post but did not!

Why I got mad today!

This morning the YouTube algorithm led me from something about old computers to a video by a writing influencer outlining the “top ten tools for writers 2020” or something along those lines. (I'm not here to pick fights, so I won't name names.)

I left it running and I was disappointed to see that the recommendations veered between the pedestrian and the pernicious.

There were some things that were harmless enough. One thing that was perhaps relevant to fiction writers was a character name generator.

The recommendations for actual writing tools were the weirdest, and ever so slightly got my goat.