Recent Reads Gets a Little Medieval

It’s sort of hard to imagine, but many business owners in the Middle Ages were focused on helping their communities. That sort of bucks all the stuff we learned about feudalism, but we suppose it’s nice to know that doing the right thing isn’t just a product of worrying about bad press going viral.

Also in this edition, some thoughts on Silicon Valley’s effect on journalism, LaCroix’s world takeover and the curious case of increased investment in malls.

With that, here’s Recent Reads.

The Ben & Jerry’s of Medieval Times – Patagonia, REI, Ben & Jerry’s. All these companies share one common thread – a strong social conscience. It’s probably easy to find a majority of companies not interested in this unless they’re able to slap a hashtag on it. But this concept of “compassionate capitalism” actually dates back to the Middle Ages. And that’s exactly what two researchers from the University of Manchester set out to prove in looking at entrepreneurial and philanthropic behaviors between the 5th and 15th centuries and the relation to today’s current environment of corporate social responsibility. – Christian Erard

When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism – In the olden days of 2012, Christopher Hughes bought the New Republic in what was viewed as a profound step in the “future of journalism.” Franklin Foer, Hughes’ editor, writes a first-person account with some important takeaways amid some definite navel-gazing. Here’s my favorite passage: “Journalism may never have been as public-spirited an enterprise as editors and writers liked to think it was. Yet the myth mattered. It pushed journalism to challenge power; it made journalists loath to bend to the whims of their audience; it provided a crucial sense of detachment. The new generation of media giants has no patience for the old ethos of detachment.” – Paul Wilson

These ‘9 Cans of LaCroix’ paintings are Warhol’s ‘soup cans for millennials’ – fnnch, a Californian artist, has uniquely captured the current state of American culture through his collection of paintings “9 Cans of LaCroix.” LaCroix, the fizzy drink replacing the soda cans that once relentlessly occupied Americans’ hands, has become the staple of starving artists and tech billionaires alike. fnnch’s exhibit stands to act as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the obsession with this particular brand of seltzer water, and we thank him for forcing us to confront and question our own willingness to conform. – Jordan Niezelski

Reporter Goes from Source to Sea – In a Canoe – Most people in Chicagoland and Illinois (and those elsewhere who care about our politics) know ABC 7’s Paul Meincke. We’re used to seeing him on our televisions talking about what’s happening in Springfield, at City Hall or at the State Fair, or wherever politicians congregate. What we’re not used to is seeing him in a canoe on the Mississippi – with a huge beard. Meincke traveled from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico courtesy of what he estimates were 950,000 paddle strokes. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the river “from source to sea,” likely a testament both to growing up on the Mighty Mississippi and his years of political reporting. But this story isn’t about the river, it’s about “river angels,” the kind folks across the country who provided warm meals and cold beers at every stop. When thinking about adventure, isn’t it always as much about the people as the place? – Padraic Swanton

If Retail Is Dying, Why Is Money Pouring Into Malls? – Given the evolution of retail from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce, it’s easy to wonder why money is being poured into malls. In fact, more than $1.6 billion went to construction spending on shopping centers in June, the most in a month in nearly a decade. It’s partly because malls need to renovate or die. Still, mall owners are betting that consumers will opt for a classic trip to the mall, dining out or shopping on a Friday evening, over filling their virtual carts on Amazon. – Lauren Kokoskie