Rules of reproduction

There is quite a blogostorm (more like a tornado, as blogosphere controversies tend to be whirlingly circular) going on about the recent decision by Associated Press (AP), a major news aggregate and syndication service, to limit the amount of its material bloggers can reproduce — in some cases to less than 40 words, which is draconian. There is an article about the AP’s decision, and some reactions to it, here at the New York Times. An AP spokesman is quoted as stating that the organization is going to “challenge blog postings containing excerpts of A.P. articles “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.” “

The New York Times provides a helpful link to Blogrunner, so you can read the (predictable) reactions from around the blogs, ranging from reasonably informed to totally uninformed, and from rational to irrational. You can also see a hotly argued comment thread at Books, Inq.: The Epilogue, which is where I first learned about this story, together with a link to Instapundit’s “irony alert”, pointing out AP’s extensive quoting from blogs in its own coverage of the story it itself has generated.

Many bloggers seem to think they can make up their own rules about what they write. Of course, this is true so far as the law allows, and the law has a very long way to go before it catches up with the Internet, and in particular, with user-generated content on it. But it seems to me that bloggers can’t have it both ways: if bloggers want to be journalists and news-breakers, and be taken as seriously as some of them take themselves, they also have to be sensible of how they came by the information they wish to broadcast. Terms and conditions apply.

Print ‘blogs’ given value by The Times

So The Times has had a redesign (print edition) today. Probably this is being discussed on the Internet already; I haven't looked yet. The best development in my book is that the leaders (read 'blog posts' in today's language) are upgraded to the inside front cover. That's where they belong, in my opinion, to 'lead into' the day's edition, to give it its tone of the day. A redesign of a magazine or paper usually provides an excuse for the publication to look back at its past highlights, and to look forward to the future, and The Times is no exception with this fascinating historical article 'How the Thunderer felled a government and freed a pop star' (don't be put off by the title).

"If, one day in 1812, you decided to skip the leader column, you might have missed that the Prime Minister had been assassinated. It was only in a leader that The Times reported Spencer Perceval's murder. A mere prime ministerial resignation might not make it until paragraph three of a leader, even though the news was a Times exclusive. Similarly, one of the greatest scoops in this paper's history — the news that Robert Peel had decided to repeal the Corn Laws — appeared only in a leader. Over time, however, while leaders continued to provide fresh information along with opinion, the practice of using them to break big stories ceased. The reason for this change was a revolution in the treatment of news. Today's Times can be contrasted with the paper's report on the battle of Trafalgar. The news story ambled through the facts for several columns, informing readers only right at the end that Admiral Nelson had been killed."

Plenty of other fascinating nuggets at the link. Here's a short summary of all the new aspects, with an invitation to readers to comment online.

Tribute to an old hand

A wonderful but very sad post by Dave Knadler of Dave's Fiction Warehouse blog, on his last day as an employee, looking back over his long career in the newspaper business:

"I sat down at my desk, spooled paper into my Royal typewriter and stared at it. I knew a feeling of total despair. I could not leave until the story was finished, and yet as far as my memory served, absolutely nothing had occurred.
Fortunately, I had kept meticulous notes…. I went to work, faithfully transcribing the contents of my notebook into a chronological narrative that was, if anything, more tedious than the meeting itself. I know it took longer to write.
I left the whole mess on the editor's desk and got the hell out of there. It was long past midnight. The next afternoon I was afraid to look at the paper. But there was my story, on the bottom of page one. Except it wasn't my story. The beginning was different. Also the middle, and the end. And it was very short. I reread it and it dawned on me that a long-suffering editor had…pared away the worst of the crap to arrive at something at least marginally useful.
The rest, as they say, is history. I became a copy editor and a news editor and have passed the intervening decades fixing the work of others, excising cliches like "The rest, as they say, is history." Sometimes I've helped save reporters from catastrophic mistakes; at no time, I hope, have I ever made anything worse or harder to understand."

See also Dave's previous post, The ship has sunk.

Petrona (and Theakston’s) in the Guardian

Alerted by the ever-vigilant Crime Fiction Reader of It's a Crime!, I bring you the breaking news that Petrona features in today's (Saturday) Guardian newspaper (review page 23). My post about my lunch with Dr Grump (Too groovy for scholarship) features as the first item in a group of blog posts discussing overcrowding in the British Library. Fame! Readers of the newspaper edition are referred to the Guardian books blog online, but nothing is there. At 1920 in the UK, the top post is dated Friday, so perhaps entries go up a day late. There is no sign of  the piece on the newspaper part of the website either. But "tomorrow is another day".  

While on the topic of book blogs, Karen at Euro Crime has highlighted the Theakston's Old Peculier "crime novel of the year" long list, with links to reviews of the books concerned at Euro Crime. Karen points out that of the 20 books, only four are by women. Shocking! Most of the books that I have read on the list are good, but certainly recent works by Ruth Rendell, Kitty Sewell, Diane Setterfield, Anne Cleeves, Jessica Mann, Tana French, Mo Hayder, Nicci French, Laura Stratton and Catherine Sampson are the peers of those on the list I've read, and I gather so are Catherine O'Flynn, Aliya Whiteley, Deanna Raybourn and I am sure others. The Guardian (again) is sniffy about the prize in any event, because the readers don't really get to choose the winner, even though it is a "readers' " competition. In the comments to the Guardian piece, Maxim Jarubowski points out that small, independent publishers are unfairly omitted in favour of "all the usual suspects with marketing budgets behind them". He doesn't give examples, however. I've read great fiction this past year in books published by independents such as Bitter Lemon Press, Arcadia and others, but they've all been translations, which I think are not eligible.

No fool like an April fool

I read the Times somewhat more attentively than usual on the train this morning to try to spot an April Fool, but was unsuccessful.

The story "Pressure grows on Mosley to stand down" was unfortunately not an April Fool. I write "unfortunately" not because of whether or not Max (son of Oswald) Mosley should resign from Formula One for indulging in Nazi-themed sex with prostitutes, but because Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula One, is quoted as saying "If Max was in bed with two hookers, they'd say "good for you" or something like that." Er, no, Mr Ecclestone, "they" would not. (Maybe in his world they would, but not anyone else's world.)

Thankfully, the self-evident story "Diana death 'conspiracy' thrown out by coroner" was not an April Fool. (Diana coroner blasts lies and gold-digging by Paul Burrell, Diana's butler.)

The fact that every person in the UK will receive free health checks once they reach the age of 40 is apparently not an April Fool either, although it is a non-story as anyone can go to their GP and get a "free health check" by asking for one.

A whole page on the scruffiness despite recent haircut of Boris Johnson, Conservative party candidate for Mayor of London, was sadly not an April Fool, though shows one the depths to which the Times has sunk.

Kevin Spacey's justified comments about the BBC giving endless free advertising to Andrew Lloyd Webber's west end shows was not an April Fool. (I'd do anything for my theatre to get a plug like this from the BBC.) Good on you, Kevin. And good on you, Times theatre critic Benedict Nightingale, for your opinion on the matter, particularly re Graham Norton.

Other non-April Fools appear to be "Woman who invented an evil stalker is spared jail" and "Six dishes that rule mealtimes" (about "an insatiable appetite for TV cookery shows").

My money is on "mobile phone sniffer sees through fibs", especially as it does not seem to be in the online edition of the paper, but honestly, almost any of the stories could be a joke, rendering the point of even having a joke superfluous. The paper features a rather weedy historical round-up of April Fools here. Tomorrow, I'll be back to the quick scan and the jump to the back page (puzzles).

If you'd be interested in a much better round-up of April Fools with a scientific theme, I refer you to the Great Beyond . My favourite is the top ten creationist discoveries, but the new deep-sea communities from whale poo runs it close.

Seeing the light, in print

Even though it is seven pages long, I recommend reading this article: The News Business: Out of Print: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker.
(A printable version of the whole thing can be downloaded here.)

"Since 1990, a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared. The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.” That may help explain why the dwindling number of Americans who buy and read a daily paper are spending less time with it; the average is down to less than fifteen hours a month. Only nineteen per cent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four claim even to look at a daily newspaper. The average age of the American newspaper reader is fifty-five and rising."

Yet: "we need to consider what will become of those people, both at home and abroad, who depend on such journalistic enterprises to keep them safe from various forms of torture, oppression, and injustice. “People do awful things to each other,” the veteran war photographer George Guthrie says in “Night and Day,” Tom Stoppard’s 1978 play about foreign correspondents. “But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.” "

Crime fiction beats powerful blogs

Lots of excuses to get annoyed, should you so wish, either at The Observer for their list of the 50 "most powerful" blogs, featuring no book discussion; or at The Telegraph (the other week) for their much-pulled-apart list of 50 crime writers to read before you die.

The unimaginative, even lazy, Observer list is the usual mix of gossip, technology and eccentric blogs– Huffington Post at number one, Boing Boing number two, PerzHilton, Techcrunch, Dooce and quite a few I haven’t heard of but won’t be checking out. Like the Telegraph piece, the Observer list is multi-authored, but unlike the Telegraph article, is simply a one-paragraph summary of each featured blog. For me, a more interesting "list" in a mainstream newspaper would have involved a little bit of actual journalism, and rather than being a list of these very well known and/or currently trendy blogs, would have focused on finding niche, "hidden jewel" blogs. It wouldn’t take long, as there are plenty of them about.

The Telegraph article (published on 23 Feb) has stimulated a predictably stormy reaction among the universe’s crime-fiction bloggers. Uriah Robinson posts on Crime Scraps about "Controversy from the Telegraph", with plenty of opinions in the comment thread. The Rap Sheet is drawing up a must-read list of its own, asking readers to nominate suggestions. CrimeFicReader of It’s a Crime! identifies some significant omissions; Declan Burke calls the list "crimes against crime fiction" at his blog Crime Always Pays; "enough to drive you mad", writes Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise; Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders asks "who belongs, who doesn’t"?; and as late as today, Sarah Weinman’s Idiosyncratic Mind ruminated on one omitted author on the Guardian book blog.

Many of these posts have comment threads expressing opinions and suggesting authors: indeed, the Telegraph itself asked readers what they thought of the list, and currently has more than 300 responses (five times as many as those who wanted to quiz Jeffrey Archer, three times as many as those concerned about the rise of China, not quite as many as those concerned about ID cards, and quite a lot fewer than those offering an opinion about whether Prince Harry should be "fighting on the front line"). Although Crime Scraps and its commenters identified that the authors of the Telegraph article weren’t as well qualified as one might have hoped to write on this topic, I’m pleased to see so much response, and potentially, when I have time to visit all these links I’ve just collected up here, to find some good new authors to read. I think the Telegraph article, whatever its original quality, has stimulated a much more interesting discussion than the boring Observer list of "powerful" blogs is likely to do. 

No bed for Lolita

As I experience a frisson of rage each time I am in the school stationery area of WHS or other similar store and observe the prominently displayed "Playboy" range, I empathised with a story in the Times this morning describing how Woolworths has withdrawn bedroom furniture aimed at 6-year-old girls because it has the brand name "Lolita". (As in a bed called "the Lolita Midsleeper Combi".) Mothers at the website protested and the furniture has been withdrawn. As well as empathising, I laughed out loud to read this:

" Whereas many mothers were familiar with Vladimir Nabokov and his famous novel, it seems that the Woolworths staff were not. At first they were baffled by the fuss. A spokesman for the company told The Times: “What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either. We had to look it up on Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now.” "

According to the article, Tesco was made to remove a pole-dancing kit from the toys and games section of its website in 2006. Maybe there is yet hope that the ghastly Playboy range of school stationery, which has been selling for several years, will suffer the same fate.

Reading John Malkovich

From an interview with John Malkovich, 54, in today’s (29 December) Times magazine (not online):

"The community in which I grew up was not the most obviously cultivated or stimulating, but what my father and mother instilled in me was the belief that people are interesting no matter where you find yourself, and in Benton, Illinois, no less so than anywhere else. My parents shared a great curiosity about the world around them and were avid readers. That love of books is something else that was passed on to me and, in childhood, I spent much of my time in the local library, learning about places and things that lay beyond our city limits. A degree of intellectual restlessness established in me by them all those years ago continues to motivate me to this day."

The Times points to a website with "details of John Malkovich’s online script project as well as other content reflecting Malkovich’s life and interests."

A list of lists for the holidays

The Internet is full of people who love categorising items into groups, and also provides easy ways to achieve that goal. List mania is at its highest before holiday seasons: summer and winter. I find so much on the Internet in the usual run of things and bookmark them all away for the aforementioned upcoming holidays when I might have time to read them. So the lists, for me, are gilding the lily. Enough said, here’s a bit of meta-listing (a post of links to lists) just in case you have the odd spare moment in the next week or two:

Easing in gently, here’s a short list: Susan Hill’s two best books of the year (one fiction, one non-fiction).

Here’s a collaborative list: favourite TV shows of the year (previous year’s lists are linked) at the Organ Grinder (Guardian).

January Magazine’s editors have chosen their favourites from thousands of books: fiction, non-fiction, crime fiction, children’s books and "art & culture". Congratulations to Linda Richards for a magnificent, and no doubt exhausting, achievement in putting all this together.

After that lot, you will be relieved to see a list of one: Uriah Robinson’s non-fiction book of the year. Looks like a good one to me.

Back to the Guardian, this one is top 10 DVDs to give this Christmas. I daren’t even look at it as I still haven’t watched any of the sets I impulsively bought after a blog discussion on the topic about a year ago.

David Montgomery of Crime Fiction Dossier is asking a range of authors and others to nominate three favourite books. The recommendations are collected at this link — all I can write is "help"!

Books with a Christmas theme are being featured currently on Euro Crime blog in the series "It’s Christmas Crime", aggregated here so you can see the list of short reviews and Yule-themed covers. 

Last but most definitely not least is CrimeFic Reader’s excellent "books for Christmas 2007" series that has been running on It’s a Crime! for a month or so. Here is the aggregate link from which you can see the whole set of recommendations (so far) by an impressive range of authors, nominating some tantalising books.