A Crisis in Nonfiction Publishing?
While mainstream publishing might be getting dumber by the day, writes Sam Leith in the Guardian, there’s hope for the future. We might be living in a golden age of publishing: University presses.
“Where 15 or 20 years ago the big trade publishers were, oddly, swamping the market with sort-of-scholarly micro-histories of salt or longitude, they now seem, with exceptions of course, to be tiptoeing away from specific, knotty, deeply researched and nuanced books about things,” writes Leith. “The sorts of book on which they tend now to rely are investigations of “big ideas”. Their lodestars or exemplars are the Malcolm Gladwells and Daniel Kahnemans and Nicholas Carrs. I do not mean to denigrate those individual authors, rather to say that they produce a particular type of work.”
These aren’t the types of books that deepen our understanding of the world, he writes. Instead they follow a formula to sell. “The disproportion between the size of the question proposed, and the simplicity of the pretended answer, is the primary marketing hook.” The interesting risks are now being taken by smaller university presses: “the stuff’s there for taking.”
The Next Generation of Digital Journalism
Michael Massing has a great story in the June 25 issue of The New York Review of Journalism titled Digital Journalism: The Next Generation. In it he tackes the questions about mission and impact that beset digital journalism in general, which include long-form journalism, citizen journalism, and the fact that many of the important memorable pieces are still featured in print outlets. Another issue he examines the inability of digital media to establish a general audience. “There’s been an explosion of narrowcast sites providing in-depth coverage of single subjects,” he writes.
“On virtually any subject these days, you can find opinionated, informative, provocative sites and blogs. There’s Feministing on feminism, Tablet on Judaism, PandoDaily on Silicon Valley, The Millions on books, Inside Higher Ed on academia, Balkinization on the law, Aeon on philosophy, ALDaily on arts and letters, Deadspin on sports, and on and on and on. By geographic region, there are sites on cities (Voice of San Diego, Baltimore Brew), states (Texas Tribune, MinnPost), countries (Tehran Bureau, Syria Deeply), and the world (GlobalVoices, GlobalPost, Goats and Soda). As traditional news organizations shrink, NGOs and advocacy groups are helping fill the gap,” writes Massing. Nevertheless this “narrowcasting” has its downside.
“What does seem undeniable is the effect that audience fragmentation has had on the ability of journalists to have an impact. With so many sites and outlets competing for attention, it becomes harder for stories to find a foothold,” writes Massing. “Paul Krugman has praised economic bloggers for elevating the quality of discussion in that field, but it takes someone like Krugman writing regularly about such matters in the Times for that discussion to reach a broader audience, enter the political discourse, and make a difference.”
It’s a great piece. I encourage those with an interest in the future of journalism to read the entire article.
The Paper Trail
As part of a series they are calling The Paper Trail, NPR looks at the current state of paper, the book and bookstores:
Bill Gates' Summer Reading List
Bill Gates shares his summer reading list with Esquire: “Heavy on nerd, light on non-nerd.”
Restoring a Treasured Book
Courtesy of Open Culture, I recently came across this wonderful video of a Japanese craftsman restoring a treasured book to mint condition. While I don’t understand the language, I understand the care and love for old books. According to the Open Culture site, this episode comes from a Japanese documentary series, The Fascinating Repairmen. “Tokyo-based book conservator Nobuo Okano brings over 30 years of experience to bear on a tattered, middle school English-to-Japanese dictionary. This is not the sort of job that can be rushed.”
A look inside the shop of a favorite brand of vintage eyeglasses, Moscot, which just turned 100.
The Worst Job of 2015
The data tell the story: Newspaper reporter is the worst job of 2015. Jim Romenesko shares CareerCast’s latest survey of the best and worst jobs. Last year, it ranked 199 out of 200, but this year it was at the very bottom of the list. He quotes the press release:
“Newspaper reporter, which displaced lumberjack as the worst job of 2015, has a negative growth outlook of -13.33% and an average annual salary of $36,267. Broadcaster and photojournalist, with mid-level annual salaries of less than $30,000, also ranked at the bottom of the list. However, those with good writing skills often can find new employment in public relations, marketing, advertising and social media, where the outlook may be brighter.”
Does College Have a Future After All?
The title of the post is the question asked by Michael Roth in his review of Fareed Zakaria’s recently published book: In Defense of Liberal Education. “It’s all the rage to bash colleges and the ‘excellent sheep’ that higher ed produces, so a ringing endorsement of a liberal education is both surprising and welcome.”
Roth summarizes the book nicely: “Fareed Zakaria offers a compact, effective essay on the importance of a broad, contextual education. Cheerfully out of step with the strident critics of higher ed, In Defense of a Liberal Education is a reminder that American colleges and universities are a powerful resource that has allowed so many young people to learn about themselves and their ability to have a positive impact on the world. Although he is well aware of the pressures on advanced study in this time of economic anxiety, Zakaria has confidence that the resources for addressing contemporary challenges lie within the very traditions being criticized.”
There’s certainly more to college than simply training for a specific job. Let’s hear it for the English, History and Philosophy majors. Let’s hear it for the liberal arts.
To Explain the World
I’m looking forward to reading this new book from Steven Weinberg: To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science. Weinberg is a winner of the Nobel Prize and recipient of the National Medal of Science, among many other honors. Here is the book summary from Barnes and Noble:
“In this rich, irreverent, compelling history, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes us from ancient Miletus to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, from Plato’s Academy and the Museum of Alexandria to the cathedral school of Chartres and the Royal Society of London. He shows that the scientists of ancient and medieval times not only did not understand what we now know about the world, they did not understand what there is to be understood, or how to learn it. Yet over the centuries, through the struggle to solve such mysteries as the curious apparent backward movement of the planets or the rise and fall of the tides, science eventually emerged as a modern discipline. Along the way, Weinberg examines historic clashes and collaborations between science and the competing spheres of religion, technology, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy.
“An illuminating exploration of how we have come to consider and analyze the world around us, To Explain the World is a sweeping, ambitious account of how difficult it was to discover the goals and methods of modern science, and the impact of this discovery on human understanding and development.”
David Carr's Last Word on Journalism
The New York Times pays tribute to the late David Carr, media critic and Minnesota native. As the story explains, Carr was also a teacher; last fall he began teaching a course at Boston University. “The syllabus for Press Play, published on the blogging platform Medium, is perhaps David’s most succinct prescription for how to thrive in the digital age. It is also David in his purest form — at once blunt, funny, haughty, humble, demanding, endearing and unique.”