I picked up a copy of newbooks magazine (May/June issue) in W H Smiths the other weekend, no doubt because of the words "including our special crime-fiction supplement" on the cover. The magazine itself is for readers and reading groups, and is pretty interesting – not least containing special offers and some free giveaways on several rather good novels, including Andrea Camilleri's August Heat. (You pay the postage: I suspect this offer is for the UK only but am not sure.)
The crime-fiction supplement is certainly impressive, and I recommend you try to get hold of a copy if you can (the magazine's main website is here). It is produced in conjunction with the Theakston's Old Peculier crime writing festival, Harrogate, which this year happens on 22-25 July, and is full of articles by or about crime authors, and a few extracts. The first article is an impressive piece by M. R. Hall, author of The Coroner and The Disappeared, on why he stopped being a barrister and turned instead to crime - in the authorial sense, that is - and, indeed, why he chose a coroner as his main character. He writes: "It seems to me that we live in a society which as sought not only to insulate itself from death, but which has increasingly lost the emotional mechanisms and belief systems for dealing with it."
I enjoyed reading the other articles, most particularly one by R. J. Ellory about his awful childhood, his persistence in pursuing his dream of being a writer, and why he chose crime fiction as his topic. (He has now published many successful novels, including A Quiet Belief in Angels and The Anniversary Man.) There are short reviews of new books, alerts of forthcoming titles, and more.
I highly recommend this crime supplement – if you can't get hold of it via the parent magazine, it might be worth trying the Harrogate festival office directly, as I would not be at all surprised if they turn out to have the odd copy.
Although I say it myself, there are some really stimulating, readable and fascinating articles in Nature this week (25 June issue) about science, journalism and communication with the lay public. Most of this post is taken from a Nature Network forum post: you're welcome to join in the discussion there.
Many researchers see science journalists as a public-relations service or as an ally in spreading the news about their work, asserts a Nature Editorial this week (459, 1033; 2009 – free to read online). The Editorial points out that there is a deeper value of journalism: to cast a fair but sceptical eye over everything in the public sphere — science included. This kind of scrutiny is easy for researchers to applaud when a news report questions dodgy statistics or dubious claims about uncertainties in evolution. It is not so easy when the story takes a critical look at animal-research practices, overblown claims about climate change or scientists’ conflicts of interest. But such examinations are to the benefit of society, which needs to see science scrutinized as well as regurgitated, and journalists are an essential part of that process.
This week’s Nature special issue, of which the Editorial is a part, shines a spotlight on the profession in changing, troubled times, and is published to mark the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June to 2 July 2009 in London.
Scientists can do little to stem the current bloodletting, in which readers and advertisers are deserting publications that are downsizing or folding at fast pace. But, argues the Editorial, they can make worthwhile attempts to ensure that questioning and informed science journalism persists in whatever new forms might emerge from the carnage. If the future of the media truly is a dire landscape of top-100 lists, shouting heads and minimal attention span, then such efforts might at least defer the grim end. A good start would be to have a look at the advice for academics speaking to journalists provided by Brad Delong and Susan Rasky. And from the other side of the coin, the Washington Post‘s national environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin and its executive editor Marcus Brauchli discuss the future of science coverage in their newspaper in a Nature Books&Arts Q&A.
But do newspapers even matter? Blogs and microblogging services like Twitter are opening up conferences to those not actually there – how is this direct to web exposure affecting science journalism, and indeed scientists themselves and their options for peer-review and publication of their research? A range of angles on these questions are covered in a Nature News feature, including the story of a recent ’blogostorm’ about a Cold Spring Harbor meeting in which scientists seemed free to report what journalists could not.
In other articles in this week’s Nature, Toby Murcott in Toppling the priesthood argues that the process of science needs to be opened up to journalists; Boyce Rensberger (Too close for comfort) tracks the progression of scientific correspondent from cheerleader to watchdog; and Nadia El-Awady in The Arab boom suggests much room for improvement in local journalism in Arab countries. The bottom line? To what extent should scientists help — or care?
(All the Nature articles mentioned and linked here are part of the science journalism special in the issue of 25 June 2009. The three Essays and the Books&Arts article are free to read online for 2 weeks from the publication date.)
General interest is out, niche is in – according to an article in The Atlantic on why the Economist is thriving while Time and Newsweek fade. "The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009." Michael Hirschorn describes how the Economist (by accident or design) more or less ignored the online revolution and the desperate urge to be "relevant" on the web, and has hence remained a valuable print product – valuable that is to readers and to the owners, an enviable double-whammy for publications these days. The Economist is not innovative or intellectual, according to Hirschorn: "The “leaders,” or main articles, tend to “urge” politicians to solve complex problems, as if the key to, say, reconstituting the global banking system were but a simple act of cogitation away. A typical leader, from January, on the ongoing Gaza violence was an erudite, deeply historical write-around on Arab-Israeli violence that ended up arriving at the same conclusion everyone else arrived at long ago: Israel must give up land for peace. The science-and-technology pages tend toward Gladwell-lite popularizations of academic papers from British universities." However, the magazine cleverly distils the world into a compact survey every week – so you really can keep up with what is going on everywhere. (The other publication that is succeeding for similar reasons is The Week, an addictive digest of everything but without any orginal content.) "Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices."
Along similar lines, here's a video of Christopher R.Weingarten talking about music criticism and the web at the "140 characters" conference in New York a few days ago. It's an entertaining rant, making the point that using Twitter (etc) to find information relevant to you is the problem, not a solution, because all you find is what you already know. He writes music reviews on Twitter, and says he makes an effort to make every one poetic and infomative. His line is: don't just say "I like/hate this" and make it about you, in common with everyone else on Twitter, but be a critic, let people know the "why and the how" – there is enough room in 140 characters to elaborate and have good writing, and that way you might actually discover something new rather than following the bland majority. Those of us who read and review books know this already (the principle, rather than the bit about the 140 characters!), but I think it might be news to a few.
The January edition of The Big Thrill, the magazine of the International Thriller Writers, is now out. As well as all the usual articles, a new regular feature begins this month called Between The Lines, "an in-depth look at the business of writing thrillers", this month an interview with David Morrell (a recent book of his, Creepers, is discussed here. I read the book recently but found it too disappointing to review).
The first highlight of the new issue is implied to be a review of Tom Cain’s The Accident Man – which turns out to be a short paragraph about the book. If you’d like to read a fuller review, mine can be read here (at Euro Crime).
The other featured reviews are also limited to short, promotional paragraphs, so you might find the interviews are a more rewarding read, for example this one, in which Linda Richards talks about her latest novel (with a wonderful cover) "Death was the Other Woman".
From The Guardian: "The Economist’s recent commercial success and stellar circulation growth would be the envy of any title. Like its rival British-based periodicals, the Spectator and the New Statesman, it sold between 50,000 and 70,000 copies a week until the late Seventies, when global expansion catapulted it into a different league. It now shifts more than 1.2 million copies in 201 countries (just under 173,000 are sold in the UK) and the business made a pre-tax profit of £49m this year, a 59 per cent rise. So much for the effect of the internet and the corresponding decline of the printed word."
John Micklethwait, the Economist’s editor, provides his reasons in the Guardian (actually Observer) article at the link.
Via a publishing industry press service, I learn that Vanity Fair (not a magazine I read) made singer/activist Bono the guest editor for its July issue. The result: New writers with new perspectives came out of the woodwork, showing how publishers can reach beyond their usual bounds.
The issue is focused on the continent of Africa: its people, its youth, its music, and its small, successful attempts at economic development. Bono is praised by the industry press service not so much for the content (though they like that) but because he turned "beyond the usual suspects" for the reporting and writing, including former Viacom CEO Tom Freston (writing about a Mali music adventure), artist Damien Hurst (writing about a Congolese artist) and novelist Binyavanga Wainaina (writing about her Kenyan generation’s downs and ups), among numerous others.
"When an article about Bono guest-editing this issue appeared in The New York Times, an unprecedented torrent of story ideas — sometimes dozens in a single day — poured in from photographers, writers, and non-governmental organizations," wrote Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter in an editor’s note. "Most of them were substantive and interesting."
According to the press service, all publishers and editors can learn from this modest experiment, which need not be limited to the Vanity Fair or celebrity editor market. Every community has its own "Africa," an area little covered, and it has many local Bonos, people with wide name recognition and strong networks of relationships. The local "Africas " may be communities poorly covered, from barrios to the working poor to immigrant groups to local education issues of many kinds. Such experiments don’t mean relinquishing editorial authority; they mean reaching out to new contributors and in the process many new potential readers, in print and online. One of the distinctive attributes of the Vanity Fair special issue is an online resource bank and interactive map. Nature does a lot of this kind of thing, one example being Declan Butler’s award-winning Google Earth-avian flu mashup, the first of its kind.
If you are short of online reading material, try PC World – 100 Blogs We Love, "our favorite stops in the blogosphere, covering everything from high tech to low comedy and all manner of pursuits in between". Of these, I’ve looked at about 10, subscribed to three or four in the past, and subscribe to one currently. But don’t let me stop you from checking out the list! There are categories to suit everyone, and each recommended blog gets a brief one-liner of description.
Link: SNReview call for submissions.
SNReview is a quarterly literary e-zine created for writers of non-genre fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. It is edited and published by Joseph Conlin. You can submit short fiction, essays, creative non-fiction and poems: guidelines for authors are at the link above.
The spring 2007 issue came out a week or so ago, somewhat belatedly — you can view it here and either read online or download articles as PDFs. It marks the ninth year of publication of this admirable e-zine.
Link: Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog: Blogger & Podcaster Guide.
Interesting post here about a new magazine called Blogger and Podcaster Guide, a weekly "TV guide" for bloggers and podcasters (natch) in partnership with USA Today. Joe Wikert interviews the publisher, Larry Genkin:
JW: What’s the goal of the new Blogger & Podcaster Guide?
LG: There are three goals I have for the Blogger & Podcaster Guide: 1) To move the audience for blogs and podcast beyond early adopters; 2) To make it easier for people to find blog/podcast content on the topics of interest to them. (Today this isn’t a very easy task. Just go to a search engine and try to quickly find a relevant blog/podcast from the mish-mash of results that are served up); 3) Help bloggers and podcasters generate larger audiences so they can better monetize their efforts and more effectively accomplish their objectives.
More of the interview is at Joe’s blog (link above).
A year and a half online – and still at the summit of its game – the rarely-popular European Arts Journal Underneath the Bunker continues to gain readers at the same rate as ostrichs gain awards at science fairs held in Lucerne on the second Thursday of the fourth month in the year in which the moon never shines through the window of an old man in Glasgow. This is despite of the support of much-admired bloggers (Grumpy Old Bookman; That Girl) and its continuing habit of reviewing those books that other critics will simply persist in ignoring (Lucia Raus; Natalie de Roquet). Like true suffering artists, we take immense pleasure from this neglect. You are welcomed, nonetheless, to disappoint us with your interest. May the treacle of culture drip upon your faces.
The current "issue" and the journal’s manifesto can be read here.