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Archive for May, 2011

Literary journalism in new forms

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The LA Times has a great discussion of several new publishers who are aiming to fill the space between books and substantial magazine articles, and also to create a free-standing market for long-form journalism. The first, Byliner, has attracted some attention recently with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s “Three Cups of Deceit”, which analyzes Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea” and sparked a discussion of Mortensen’s financial management and general veracity. The Times compares the form to classic literary journalism like Norman Mailer’s history of the 1968 Democratic convention or Joan Didion’s essays on 1960’s culture.

“Three Cups of Deceit” (available through Amazon) is an intriguing in-between length, about eighty pages. Krakauer has enough space to develop his theme, but it’s a relatively simple story that doesn’t fit conventional publishing requirements–it’s too long even for something like the New Yorker, but too short to make a profitable book…and padding the length to make it book size would decrease the impact. It was well worth the $3 I spent. When Kindle Singles launched earlier this year, this was the sort of thing Amazon had in mind to encourage. I’m happy new kinds of publishers are experimenting with it to create great things.

Bin Laden and the Evolution of the Web

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

On September 11th, 2001 I was working as a sales analyst for a tool company in Columbus, Ohio. When the initial reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center began circulating in the office I went online to confirm it and discovered that the web was broken. Specifically, CNN.com was down. And nytimes.com. I branched out to national newspapers: LA Times, Chicago Tribune, down. I went to smaller cities, TV stations, then smaller TV stations, newspaper sites from tiny towns, all down. I began checking British sites the same way, all down. I finally confirmed the news via the website of a small TV station in Provence. I had a dim recollection of this last night when ESPN mentioned the news about Osama Bin Laden and New York Times mobile took 30 seconds to load instead of the usual 2, but it didn’t crystallize for me until I read this analysis of how search engines handled the news last night and today by Danny Sullivan, my favorite search engine guru. Sullivan points out that Google was incapable of doing realtime search in 2001, or of searching news specifically, but can do both now. And the web has enough horsepower to handle live-streaming a royal wedding or the World Cup. Or the partial conclusion to a story which started ten years ago on a clear September day.