Monday, 28 September 2009

fast food publishing?

It is no news that Internet not only changing news journalism but also publishing business in more generally. Not only are poets publishing their work as  Tweets (The Guardian 3/25/09), but it seems that conventional books must step up to meet the online schedules.

The New York Times article of 9/28/09 on a new fast-paced publishing company chrystallises the issue. A popular blog - journalism site The Daily Beast that features (often expose-style) political commentary as well as human interest posts (speculations on Travolta's faith on scientology, or an analysis of Brigitte Bardot's influence on sex, 9/29) will extend its operations to Beast Books. BB will become a publishing company for Daily Beast writers. They will have 1-3 months to write their manuscripts that will first be published online, and then quickly as paperbacks. 

The rationale behind the move, according to the BB: magazines can no longer cater to people's needs and interests in current affairs issues; while traditional book publishing often takes too long and will thus miss its true momentum. Says the founder of the Daily Beast, Tina Brown, in the NYT article:

“There is a real window of interest when people want to know something,” (...) “And that window slams shut pretty quickly in the media cycle.”

Oh, that vicious media cycle! Now real time and 'liveness', formerly accredited to radio and especially television (see
Jerome Bourdon's observant article fr0m 2000), is being forced upon books, too.  Surely it is wonderful to read well researched and contextualised reflective accounts on timely issues. How I for instance admire New Yorker (most of the time) because it's evident that weeks and weeks went into composing the essay or artist portrait. For instance, I found this day-by-day account of last September's events in the financial markets simply -- amazing (New Yorker 9/22/09). I could imagine such and extensive, interview-based reportage must have taken months of research, fact-checking, revising. And the essence of the story is precisely in the retrospective perspective, 12 months after, by the key US actors.   

I wonder whether fast-paced book publishing can produce thorough, quality, well-written accounts of current affairs, simply because the author has to produce plenty of words to fill the pages. And is the book format the best one to serve audiences who want in-depth, contextual information about a current, newsworthy topic? Is this mode of publishing to non-fiction what Metro is to conventional nation-wide or regional newspapers?

I also think there's a certain parallel to academic publishing, too. I would really like my work to be current and relevant. I think it is the responsibility of scholars to take part in ongoing public debates. I salute online journals like the International Journal of Communication for being platforms for  timely analyses. Yet, sometimes time (and lots of it) is needed for an article -- or a book -- to develop into a many-sided, wise, reflective, useful commentary or vision.

My prediction is that there will be a 'slow-publishing' and 'slow-journalism' movement, parallel to slow-food movement. The race for 'real time' and short Twitter-style commentaries in all media will make well-researched, well-written, well-edited essays and reportage delightful delicacies that more and more audience members will want to savour as special treats. And hopefully the movement will be embraced beyond few elite gourmands, especially via new forms of public media and new non-profit journalism efforts (as this current article by the Nieman Journalism Lab @Harvard  may lead to expect). 

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