About Joshua Benton
I'm the founding director of something called the Nieman Journalism Lab, part of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. We haven't launched yet, but it's an effort to figure out how quality journalism can survive (nay, thrive!) through the difficult transition from print and broadcast to the Internet.
From 2000 to 2008, my day job was as a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. There, I spent most of my time writing about education policy and causing trouble. When I could shoehorn it into my job description, I liked to play foreign correspondent and report stories around the world.
I spent my last year at The News playing hooky as a Nieman Fellow here at Harvard. That means someone paid me to go to interesting classes, think deep thoughts, and pretend I was a grad student without the looming, ever-present daemon of a dissertation to distract me. I lead a very good and lucky life.
You can read every last story I've ever written — please, be forgiving about the early ones — at one of my other web sites, clipfile.org.
Before moving to Texas, I spent three memorable years in sunny Toledo, Ohio, working at The Blade. I wrote a lot about politics and government, with a side gig writing pompous reviews of indie-rock albums. Before that were four years at Yale University. And before even that I spent my childhood in a small town in south Louisiana. (I'm a proud Cajun.)
I'm currently working on two books, one of which will be published in 2009, the other in 2010. Some day in the future, I plan to alert the publishing industry of these facts.
In 1985, legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn wrote out the principles he said guided his publication:
If The New Yorker could be everything we want it to be, it would unfailingly combine thorough, accurate, fresh, inspired reporting with fiction that runs deep and says something that hasn't been said before; it would be funny as frequently as possible; it would contribute something of worth to the national discourse; it would cast light; it would be well-wishing and it would be humane. At an age when television screens are too often bright with nothing, we value substance. Amid chaos of images, we value coherence. We believe in the printed word. And we believe in clarity. And we believe in immaculate syntax. And in the beauty of the English language.
Within two years, Shawn was out on his ass, fired to make way (eventually) for Tina Brown. This site, in contrast, aspires mainly to entertain without too much reliance on fart jokes.
For the record, this web site has nothing to do with The Dallas Morning News, my employer. Any opinions expressed are most certainly not those of The News, its editors, its executives, its custodial staff, its advertising sales staff, or the owners of the roughly 100 million outstanding shares of Belo Corp. It is my personal blog, and as a result it features things that interest me. They may interest you as well; that, friend, is the value proposition I offer.
For the technically inclined, crabwalk.com was launched somewhere around 1999, although it had existed in various forms dating back to 1994. (Its original name was the camel-case disaster "Cajun OnLine.") After initially coding the site by hand, I moved to Greymatter in 2001, then switched to Movable Type in 2002. Looking under the hood would also reveal a smidge of Wordpress and a few chunks of plain ol' PHP.
About the name
"Crabwalk" is the name of a song by American Music Club, a San Francisco band most active in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (They've since re-formed. Possibly also reformed.) The song is on their 1991 album Everclear; there's also a spare acoustic version on the Rise EP from that year, and still another on lead singer Mark Eitzel's live album, Songs of Love Live.
In 1996, on firefly, a mailing list devoted to Eitzel and AMC, Mark's sister R. wrote about the song title's origins (context: Vudi is AMC's guitarist):
This is my first posting, so let me introduce myself. I'm Mark Eitzel's sister in Ohio. I just got back from San Francisco (hanging out with Mark and Vudi) and am getting caught up on all this e-mail.
A long time ago I met up with Mark and AMC in a tiny club in Newport, Kentucky. Including me and my husband, there was probably six people in the whole place (seven if you count the bartender). One of the "listeners" was a very drunk older gentleman who had a fascination with Vudi. During most of the gig, this man crossed the club staggering sideways (doing the crabwalk) between Vudi and the jukebox. When he wasn't trying to play Vudi's guitar or talk to him about his own hugely expensive country guitar, he was trying to drown out the music played by AMC by pouring quarters in the jukebox. He never realized that the jukebox was unplugged. Perhaps this caused him to drink more? Another guy at the club stood directly in front of Mark the entire time trying to get the band to play some heavy metal tunes. This tune Crabwalk has its origins in this club in Newport.
This evening was not one of AMC's finest but we had a great time talking about it for the next few days with the band.
You can download the song (for free! legally!) here.