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Dublin: 0°C Saturday 23 January 2021

Sitdown Sunday: Three decades of racism while working in American media

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The Bank Robber

shutterstock_254378713 Offices of HSBC Private Bank in Geneva on February 20, 2015. Source: Shutterstock/Sonia Alves-Polidori

Before the Panama Papers, there was a data theft described as “the largest robbery of a bank ever committed in the world”. This is the story behind the HSBC banker who robbed customer data while working in the company’s private Swiss bank for very elite clients.

(The New Yorker, approx 40 mins reading time)

Falciani walked through streets strung with Christmas lights to his apartment, in a dingy building on the Rue des Mouettes. He and Simona packed a few bags, bundled their three-year-old daughter, Kim, against the cold, and prepared to flee the country. Despite his protests, Falciani had stolen the data.

2. The enduring whiteness of the American media

shutterstock_162049547 Source: Shutterstock/phloxii

Howard W French’s account of what he learned in the past three decades working as a journalist and dealing with “the continued existence of racial inequality in the United States”.

(The Guardian, approx 28 mins reading time)

It didn’t help when a white senior editor at the paper who had himself been a correspondent in Africa tried to encourage me by saying that between the episodic hard news provided by the occasional conflict or coup, one could amuse oneself there scribbling postcards about the exotic and primitive, or what he called “oogah-boogah”.

3. 13, right now

shutterstock_226843840 Source: Shutterstock/George Dolgikh

Imagine leaving down your phone to eat dinner and coming back to at least 64 messages? That’s a brief insight into being 13 years old in an era where getting the most comments, notifications and good lighting is everything.

(The Washington Post, approx 12 minutes reading time)

Katherine Pommerening’s iPhone is the place where all of her friends are always hanging out. So it’s the place where she is, too. She’s on it after it rings to wake her up in the mornings. She’s on it at school, when she can sneak it. She’s on it while her 8-year-old sister, Lila, is building crafts out of beads. She sets it down to play basketball, to skateboard, to watch PG-13 comedies and sometimes to eat dinner, but when she picks it back up, she might have 64 unread messages.


4. Hanson reveals the surprising story behind ‘mmmbop

MTV Hanson Source: Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Broadly takes a look behind the catchy song which “ultimately served as the bridge from alternative music back to pure pop”. Hanson, band managers, producers and directors look back on the hit which reached number 1 in 27 countries.

MMMBop became the defining pop anthem of the late ’90s and the runaway hit of Hanson’s album Middle Of Nowhere. It reached #1 in 27 countries, earned three Grammy nominations, and led the band to massive success, with over 16 million records sold worldwide. While Hanson has often been dismissed as bubble gum bullshit for the grade-school demographic, their debut album’s pedigree was actually rooted in the alternative rock scene of 1990s Los Angeles.

(Broadly, approx 10 minutes reading time)

5. Is this the world’s most radical mayor?

France Climate Countdown Source: Francois Mori/AP/Press Association Images

This is the story of Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona. She has reduced her own pay from €140,000 to €28,600, imposed €60,000 worth of fines on banks that owned vacant properties and restored school meal subsidies to the city’s poorest children.

(The Guardian, approx 24 minutes reading time)

Colau’s stated priority is to move Barcelona away from what she considers “massified tourism”, with no thought for sustainability, strategic planning or input from the public. “Until now, all we have had were private initiatives doing what they wanted,” Colau told me. “This has led to a model that is out of control.” She added: “We suffered the same short-sighted model here with the real estate bubble. We are trying to prevent the same mistakes happening again with tourism.”

6. Inside the Murdoch Makeover of National Geographic

shutterstock_305457050 Source: Shutterstock/tishomir

There were concerns in September when the National Geographic Society announced the sale of its media holdings to Murdoch-owned 21st Century Fox.

Eight months on from the deal, Bloomberg examines if anything has changed.

(Bloomberg, approx 16 minutes reading time)

“The audience doesn’t necessarily go where the dollars are spent,” Lyle says. “The part you don’t know is whether your ratings will increase proportionally.” The society is happy with the network’s direction now, he says, but what will programming look like in five years should the strategy fail?


The fascinating story of Peggy Jo Tallas, the woman who adopted the disguise of Cowboy Bob to rob banks.

(Texas Monthly, approx 42 minutes reading time)

The stunned teller handed over a stack of cash from her drawer. Peggy Jo nodded, stuck the money into a satchel, and walked out of the bank. She then drove straight back to her apartment, where her mother was still in bed, getting hungry, hoping Peggy Jo would return soon to fix her lunch.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

About the author:

Roisin Nestor

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