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DAVID ROSMAN: Long-form journalism offers important analysis, now on your e-reader

Friday, May 13, 2011 | 2:44 p.m. CDT; updated 6:36 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 14, 2011

News services and book genres such as nonfiction, current events and American history might have new avenues to explore for distribution and style. What happened May 1 through 11 has changed the rules, and writers and journalist must take note.

I will not rehash the events of May 1. We all know of the raid and subsequent killing of Osama bin Laden.

National Public Radio's Lynn Neary spoke with Jon Meacham, editor of the anthology "Beyond Bin Laden: America and the Future of Terror," and Mark Reznick, editor of the book “SEAL Team Six.” Reznick's book had its release date moved from May 21 to May 6, according to a publicist at St. Martin's Press. Both represent the new “fast release movement” for books to keep current with the 24/7 news cycle and to provide a “long-form” analysis as opposed to the three paragraphs we find on Web-based newspapers and magazines.

Meacham talked about the genesis of his project. “This book was born around 11:30 P.M. Eastern time, Sunday night.” As a former editor of Newsweek magazine, Meacham knows the movers and shakers in the world of politics, so it is not surprising that he was able to assemble stellar essayists for the project. Invitations to contribute were made on May 2, and the book was put together shortly thereafter. By Tuesday, copy was edited. The project was essentially completed on May 4.

On May 11, Meacham’s anthology “Beyond Bin Laden: America and the Future of Terror” was released as a Kindle book. It was described as a “provocative collection of essays,” and the fine people at Random House Digital gave birth to a new e-book. For $1.99 it can be yours in Kindle format.

The contributors are no slouches; former secretaries of state, a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations and other notables who are all writers in the stables of Random House, where Meacham is an executive editor.

Meacham and Random House understand the cry for not only timely books but for the need of a format that has seemingly been lost to the instant news frenzy of the Internet. I have not had the opportunity to read the e-book yet (I have ordered it for a New York Journal of Books review.), so I cannot tell you the content. Assuming the essays are based on fact, personal knowledge and experiences, this could be an example of long-form journalism at its best.

Long-form journalism is not the 500 to 1,500-word columns and articles you read online or in the print edition of this or any other paper. They are the 8,000 to 15,000 word in-depth discussions of a topic. The New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati addressed this topic to the 2009 Council for Advancement and Support of Education Editors' Forum. Why would anyone want to read a 10,000 word New York Times Magazine article on a Blackberry? There's no tactile experience, no award-winning Lyndsey Addario photographs. Just words.

Marzorati deeply believes that readers are hungry for facts and solid analysis based on those facts. “The conventional wisdom that the Internet (is) not friendly to any piece of prose longer than a few hundred words” is simply wrong. His conclusion is that long-form journalism is here to stay and, if properly edited and from a reliable source, will thrive in the digital market.

Then there is the question as to the expense of putting the story online or in a publication. Marzorati estimated that it cost close to $40,000 to put a long-form story on the front page of The New York Times Magazine. The fact that someone on a Blackberry was reading the story for free irked him. As bothering as it is, we will all eventually pay to get to website content. Since Marzorati’s 2009 speech, Newsweek Kindle Edition is a subscription service.

This brings me to a new question: How do we get the lazy and cheap audience off the talking head shows, where facts are few and conspiracy is king, and pay for the privilege of knowing the truth?

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.


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