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March 8, 2016 | Issue 17
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
A few of my friends playing in Knickerbocker Creek at the Way Too Cool 50K on Saturday. instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! There’s a lot that I’m fired up about this week, so let’s get rolling:

Athletics Kenya, we have a problem. 

Actually, the organization has many problems, including, but not limited to inadequate doping controls and widespread corruption throughout its governing body—two issues, to be fair, that aren’t exclusive to AK. We’ll focus on the latter transgression here, as the New York Times ran this not-so-flattering feature on Saturday, which suggests that top officials took a half-a-million dollar bribe—a one-time $500,000 “commitment bonus” as it was worded—in order to stay on as the federation’s exclusive footwear and apparel supplier after AK entertained an offer from Chinese company Li-Ning. “It’s language used to dress up bribes traditionally,” said John Githongo, one of Kenya’s leading voices against corruption. This isn’t good for AK, which has done nothing in recent memory to instill confidence in its competence, and it’s not good press for The Swoosh, even if it turns out they were, in fact, unaware that AK officials planned to pocket the large sum of money for themselves. There’s a lot more to the story, so I suggest reading the article if you haven’t already, but this is one of many new marks on the already ugly face of international track and field. 

Got Meldonium?

Apparently, quite a few athletes do, including 2013 world 1,500m champion Abeba Aregawi and tennis star Maria Sharapova, both of whom have recently been suspended from competition after testing positive for the drug. Sharapova admitted yesterday that, "I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it,” and also said she’s been using the drug for 10 years as prescribed by her family’s doctor. Meldonium, which is used to treat heart conditions in a clinical setting, was added to WADA’s banned substance list at the beginning of this year for its performance-enhancing capabilities, including enhanced glycogen economy during exercise, increased heart function and improved recovery. Here’s a great explainer on the drug—and what it can do for athletes—from Jake Shelley. So what do these recent busts for Meldonium mean in the grand scheme of doping in sports? The answer to that question remains to be seen, but if there have already been this many high-profile positives two months into its designation as a banned substance, I’ve got to think it’s the start of potential drug-popping avalanche. I mean, there could be a ton of athletes who say they use it to treat angina or some related condition, just like there are so many others who “need” thyroid meds, but something tells me that’s probably not the case.

Please, just say “thank you.”

“When in doubt, just say thank you. There is no downside. Are you honestly worried about showing too much gratitude to the people in your life?” This quote is from James Clear's excellent post on making your life better by simply saying “thank you” in seven common situations. I’m of the Bruce Lee-like belief that life is a constant process of improvement, and one of the things I’m working on is trying to be more grateful and appreciative on a daily basis. An easy way to do this is to simply say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you, pays you a compliment, gives you advice or even criticizes you. No disrespectful retorts, blame casting or humlebragging. Just, “thank you.”

Controlling the distribution.

The last two weeks I’ve written about Buzzfeed and given some mention to their “distributed” content strategy and ever-evolving key engagement metrics. Along those lines, Bleacher Report is also adopting the “you’ve gotta go where the people are” mindset in regard to where—and how—they’re publishing content. “The current media wars are not going to be won on direct audience numbers,” says Bleacher Report's Rory Brown. “Brand is the big winner. We’ve got to reach as many people as we possibly can, and the best way to do that is creating content that might live on Bleacher Report but lives in a number of places as well.” This all super interesting to me, and I think a strategy all publishers need to be considering in an ever-evolving “media” landscape, but I also think there’s a danger—not to mention an impracticability—in trying to be everywhere. I’m of the belief that in order to “win the war,” so to speak, publishers need to identify the key areas where their audience hangs out, respect the resources they have to service those areas, and engage their community with compelling, quality content that keeps them coming back for more. 

Podcast Traffic-ing

I spent 7-1/2 hours in my car over the weekend, which afforded me the opportunity to crush a bunch of podcasts while sitting in traffic. Here were my three favorites, in no particular order:

Mishka Shubaly on Longform. “You can live on Parliaments and cocaine and PBR and also, if you’re not living that way and if you’re treating your body in a different manner entirely, you can run 50 miles.” I loved this interview with the unflinchingly honest Mishka Shubaly, whose name I’m familiar with but whose work I haven’t read. That will change soon as I’m going to start by diving into The Long Run, a short 60-page story “he didn’t want to write” describing his transformation from addict to ultramarathoner. In the interview, Mishka talks candidly about his dual writing-music playing career, how running helped him stop drinking and doing drugs without going to rehab, and a lot more. Definitely check it out. 

How Things Spread on TED Radio Hour. My favorite thing about the TED Radio Hour is that each show is usually broken into disparate parts that are connected by a common idea or theme. I like this format because it makes for an interesting episode from start to finish, but it’s also possible to listen to individual sections separately from the others. “How Things Spread” was no exception. While I listened pretty loosely to the first and third sections on laughter and global health epidemics, I was most interested in the middle chunk on the spreading of ideas with Seth Godin, who I wrote about here a couple weeks ago. “The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built is, ‘Is it remarkable?’” Godin says. “And remarkable is a really cool word, because we think it just means neat but it also means worth making a remark about, and that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going.”

Maria Konnikova on Design Matters. This is a new podcast (to me) I stumbled upon a few weeks ago while doing a search for interviews with Maria Popova (which I found here). Turns out it’s a treasure trove of conversations with writers, designers and other creatively inclined folks. Total score. One of the more recent interviews on the podcast was with the super smart Maria Konnikova, whose latest book, The Confidence Game, is getting all sorts of high praise. I haven’t read the book yet but I’m familiar with a lot of Konnikova’s work from The New Yorker, Atlantic and elsewhere, so I was curious to learn more about her history, her process and her interests. In the interview, Konnikova discusses her recent column on resilience—starting at 13:25—with host Debbie Milliman. I found the topic fascinating, and I think you will too. “As long as the resilience is stronger (than the adversity), you’ll be OK,” Konnikova says. 

That’s it for this week’s Shakeout. If you have thoughts or opinions on anything you’ve read here, share them with me by replying to this email or Tweeting in my direction

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

P.S. I just noticed that this week’s newsletter contains references to three different “Maria __ova’s.” Not sure what that means, if anything, but make of it what you will. 

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