How’s Book Publishing Handling the Election?

By Neal Comment


GalleyCat‘s Amanda ReCupido swung by NYU’s Center for Publishing for a panel on “Publishing and the Election: the Books, the Blogs, and the Bold New Media Tactics” that brought together Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter,’s Ana Marie Cox, and Simon & Schuster‘s David Rosenthal for a lively discussion that covered everything from Obama-bias to the influence of the resurging Saturday Night Live. “Publishing really shapes this election,” said moderator Jacob Weisberg.”This is the most interesting campaign, not only as a civilian, but as a journalist. There have been huge shifts in the media landscape.”

“One of those shifts,” ReCupido reports, “includes the ever-increasing importance of the internet and blogs (what a very meta observation) in an environment where anybody and their mother (if their mothers have internet capabilities beyond forwarding inspirational chain emails) can post their thoughts on the candidates and provoke discussion that the national media may not find in their journalistic interest to cover. As Weisberg noted, ‘On the internet, stories are incubated in the absence of news;’ indeed the conversation often continues in the lack of further developments.

“Furthermore, Alter distinguishes the advent of YouTube to be the largest change of all to the political scene. ‘It has both caused some problems and addressed some issues,’ he said, citing both the ‘macaca’ video and Obama’s most recent speech on race as fitting examples for each scenario. Even so, he reminds us that the tactics of our current media are nothing new: ‘Thomas Paine was a blogger,’ he said, mentioning the popularity and influence of his pamphlets. There was another writer, he said, who broke the news of Jefferson’s affairs with his slaves during his presidential campaign. As it turns out, media coverage of politicians’ sexual philandering did not just begin in the 90s.

“The internet is also shifting the way candidates raise funds and connect with voters, as position papers are accessible online. Alter mentioned this fact with huge relief, saying that the candidates’ positions are ‘no longer the media’s responsibility, and the only person to blame if you don’t know where the candidates stand is you.’ As the conversation shifted to the importance of entertainment, Cox couldn’t help but argue that this is the ‘campaign the writer’s strike built;’ the MSNBC debate, she noted, which aired during the height of the strike, received the highest ratings. ‘There was nothing else on so people paid attention,’ she said.

“While the rest of the panel didn’t necessarily agree, they had some insight on the influence of late-night and faux news shows. ‘Humor is immediate,’ Rosenthal said. ‘It’s no longer if a candidate can survive the press, but if they can survive two to three nights of pure ridicule.’ And as to the concern of younger voters getting all their news from Stewart and Colbert, you needn’t worry. ‘You wouldn’t get the jokes if you didn’t have other sources of news,’ said Alter, whose wife is a producer of The Colbert Report.

“Also of great importance is the influence of books and the ability for a candidate to rise to the top of the bestseller list. ‘If you notice,’ Weisberg commented, ‘The final three in the race are also highly successful authors.’ Rosenthal agreed: ‘It is almost impossible to run for president today without a book,’ noting that Hillary’s book-tour-turned-listening-tour jumpstarted her campaign. ‘Books give candidates and would-be candidates a platform and an excuse to talk to the press.’ Cox mentioned how books are a chance for candidates to relay their authenticity. ‘For a talented writer, policy can become narrative and moving,’ she said. There is also a very intimate act to purchasing and reading a particular candidate’s book, Rosenthal adds. ‘You’re giving your support in the $26.95 that the book costs, and then you’re literally curling up in bed with that candidate.’ Kind of puts that whole ‘Who do you want answering the phone at 3 a.m.?’ question into perspective.”