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Robert Boyton remains bullish on journalism. In 2005 he published The New New Journalism, which argued that the American long-form journalism was thriving. Pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Recession. Was his argument premature? No. There is still room for thriving nonfiction. Part of his optimism is based on the belief that people in industrial societies “still expect better…

The New, New ... New Journalism

Robert Boyton remains bullish on journalism. In 2005 he published The New New Journalism, which argued that the American long-form journalism was thriving. Pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Recession. Was his argument premature? No. There is still room for thriving nonfiction. Part of his optimism is based on the belief that people in industrial societies “still expect better things in their lives,” which includes all forms of journalism. Boyton also believes that the current economic conditions merely force journalists to add different forms of writing and reporting to the repertoire rather than abandon what has been done before.

"Every fall, when I greet the new group of NYU students, the first thing I do is welcome them to the house of journalism. It is a big house, I explain, with many differently shaped and designed rooms. The rooms have names like “blog post,” “feature,” “essay,” “foreign report” and “book,” and seems to add a room or two every year. In order to have a long and enjoyable career, I continue, they must find one room they truly love, and decorate and design it so that it reflects their very best attributes. In addition, they need to find a few other rooms where they feel comfortable, since one can’t live in a single room forever. Each of the rooms has a different function, and must be maintained in a way that makes sense for it.”

Expanding on the metaphor a bit, Boyton believes that publishers and newspapers themselves, not just journalists, must adapt to this new climate. “I’d compare the current thinking about business models for journalism to the real estate developer who builds nothing but malls. What we need, the thinking goes, is as many large, easily designed, open spaces as possible, the better to lead masses of people through. Contemporary journalism has broken down the walls, and wants everyone to sit in the same room (usually the busiest, loudest room in the house). A collection of idiosyncratic houses, each containing different sized rooms is too confusing and cluttered, the thinking goes. No, the trick is to “go big” and throw enormous parties to which everyone is invited. How else can a website attract millions of “hits”?”

Do you believe him? His argument is obviously more complicated and nuanced than what I have summarized here. I’d encourage you to read his entire article.

Posted by Joel on December 28 2011 • Journalism

Shakespeare and Co.

imageGeorge Whitman, founder of the Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Company, died last week at age 98. Critics say it likely wasn’t the best bookshop in the world, or even Paris for that matter, but Shakespeare and Company was one of the most famous. Two tributes to Mr. Whitman were recently published: one at The Book Bench blog and the other at The Telegraph. This is what Tim Martin wrote in The Telegraph:

“But if you’re one of the innumerable tourists who flock to Shakespeare and Co each year, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’re not going exclusively for the books. You visit for the history: for the chance to poke round the famous upstairs library and reading room where Samuel Beckett, Lawrence Durrell and Allen Ginsberg sipped tea, and for a glimpse into the world’s most famous literary dosshouse, a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookshop” over which Whitman presided with irascible charm between 1951 and 2003. (If you’re visiting in search of the Modernist hangout that hosted Beckett, Joyce, Hemingway, Stein and Eliot, look elsewhere: that shop closed after the Second World War, but Whitman adopted the name in the Sixties as a tribute to its founder Sylvia Beach.)”

Posted by Joel on December 26 2011 • Books

On Writer's Block

I think Sven Birkerts has it about right: “Writing can’t be planned for or predicted, and when it happens, when the surge begins, it brings a satisfaction like nothing else. There are finer sensualities, sure, and basic emotions that give joy or connection when released, but as far as giving me a sustained sense that this is who I am, this is what I do, a full-fathom immersion in writing is the ultimate verification. Alone at my attic desk, catching the flow of words, when the flow is there to be caught — or generating it when it is there to be generated — I break with my more tentative self, claim some more necessary seeming “I.” The change has everything to do with finding words and their sequence. The joy prolongs itself for a short time after I stop — a resonance, a psychic afterglow — then it tapers away, the other life resumes. But I am already thinking toward the next occasion.

“The memory of the best of the best writing moments haunts, most grievously when the desire is there but the impulse is absent, or when the impulse flickers and sputters but doesn’t catch, when the words — which I believe are right there, as if on the other side of the sheerest membrane — will not come. The good runs are not a fortifying memory but a reproach. My younger self — it is always, necessarily, the younger self — mocks me. It’s not just writing at stake, but everything. The worth I felt when I worked, when I was young — even if that was only yesterday — is gone. This is now and henceforth the way of things; this is the new reality.”

Read his entire essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Posted by Joel on December 10 2011 • Journalism