Quote of the Day: Men Don’t Read

Men. Reading.

Men. Reading.

Depressing, provocative, or just plain true, here’s something to consider from Bryan Goldberg; he made millions off co-founding the incredibly popular crowd-sourced sports site Bleacher Report and is now trying to do the same for women-centered writing (whatever that is) at a site called Bustle. According to Goldberg:

Men, to the best of my knowledge, don’t even read … When’s the last time you heard a man say, ‘I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it’? My girlfriend always tells me about these books she’s reading, and I don’t even see her reading the book! Where does this book live?

Apparently it doesn’t occur to Goldberg to just pick up a book and find out what this fascinating and mysterious hobby is all about.

But in any case, he is not wrong in the aggregate, as any bookstore employee can tell you: Women buy books, men don’t. There is the occasional squawk of disagreement on this issue and plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but mostly, the numbers bear it out.

A 2007 story from NPR reported that even among avid readers, the typical woman read nine books a year, compared to five for men. Men make up just 20 percent of fiction reader. It’s hard to believe that those numbers have changed much in the past six years.

Back in 2005, novelist Ian McEwan (Atonement, the amazing new Sweet Tooth) tried an experiment. He and his son went around a London park distributing books for free. The result?

Every young woman we approached – in central London practically everyone seems young – was eager and grateful to take a book. Some riffled through the pile murmuring, “Read that, read that, read that …” before making a choice. Others asked for two, or even three.

The guys were a different proposition. They frowned in suspicion, or distaste. When they were assured they would not have to part with their money, they still could not be persuaded. “Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks mate, but no.” Only one sensitive male soul was tempted.

“Frowned in suspicion, or distaste.” And remember, this was before every man had a smart phone to obsessively check up on sports scores.

Writers’ Room: Elmore Leonard on Writing Well

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Elmore Leonard died last week at the age of 87. He wrote dozens of books and innumerable short stories in a variety of genres, but was best remembered for his best-selling crime novels. He was a master of clean prose and a mechanic of plot; so much so that his justly famous “10 Rules of Writing Well” should be checked out by any writer, crime or not.

Here you go:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Always, always follow the last one. Read the original piece here for his explanations of the various rules. (“You are allowed no more than two or three [exclamation marks] per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.”)

On the Media: What’s a Journalist?

Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.

—Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer

The trick for being a journalist, of course, is knowing that what Malcolm says above is absolutely true and yet, still being to have a great time at your job. As they say: messy business, but somebody’s got to do it.

Media Room: The Boys Clubs

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Have you heard about how the glass ceiling has been shattered by women moving into positions of power across American industry? No? Neither has New Republic reporter Lydia DePillis, whose new Tumblr 100 Percent Men does nothing but highlight all the “Corners of the world where women have yet to tread.” Some highly sarcastic selections:

So some are more surprising than others (NASCAR). As snark goes, it’s a handy flashlight on the unspoken biases still permeating a society that has supposedly moved beyond such things.

Reader’s Corner: London Book Fair

dontpanic

Solid advice, always

Neil Gaiman gave the keynote talk at the start of the 2013 London Book Fair, where—after, before, and while doing the actual business of publishing—everybody will again go through many rounds of amateur and professional prognostication about where the industry is going.

Gaiman declined to make any grand pronouncements on the issue of whither-digital, noting that it will continue to change the landscape in many dramatic and unexpected ways. He did share a conversation he had with the late, great Douglas Adams years before e-books were a reality (remember that Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide was really just the sci-fi prototype for the iPad) where they talked about what would happen once that came about:

“I asked him if he thought the inevitable e-book would mean the end of the physical book,” Gaiman said. Adams replied by noting that sharks existed alongside dinosaurs, and yet sharks are still around. “That’s because nothing has ever come along that was quite as good at being a shark as a shark is,” Gaiman said, adding that books, too, are very good at being books.

 

Media Room: Farewell to the ‘Boston Phoenix’

The all-too-common story comes around again: Another venerable institution of print media is going away. After its current issue, the Boston Phoenix is going the way of Saturday mail delivery. For decades, the scrappy alternative paper was an incubator of talent and an actual alternative to what was being reported in the mainstream papers (as compared to the current crop of pseudo-alt-weeklies in most cities, which are often little more than lifestyle-and-listings rags).

bostonphoenix1Like many celebrated papers, the Phoenix had been on the slide for years, hit hard as anyone by the decimation of print media ad dollars, and less able to weather it than their corporate competition. Film critic David Edelstein, who worked there for a few years in the 1980s, wrote that “it was everything I’d ever dreamed of in a place of work —loose, quirky, but with a sense of mission”; but even he admitted to not having read it in years.

The most glowingly emotive recollection came from Charles C. Pierce, currently at Esquire and author of the great Idiot America. He writes in Grantland about his time there in the 1970s and ’80s, when pieces were cranked out in the bar and occasionally you had to write 6,000 words on lobsters.

Between the staff punch-ups, being introduced to Black Flag, and writing whatever was asked for (after all: rent), Pierce recollects what was special about his fellow, Front Page-esque ink-stained wretches:

What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to the end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.

Writing for the rent isn’t always a grind; sometimes it’s a benediction.

Media Room: Portland Ghost Basement

basement1

One of the major hubs for fiber-optic cables carrying the Internet to most homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest is located in the basement of a building in Portland, Oregon. Nothing terribly surprising there. Except that one Cabel Maxfield Sasser went down there and took some photographs of the walls:

The roar of the presses that ruled these rooms has been replaced, just as we all suspected, with the calculated silence of the conduit that carries our data. This data, in fact. These very photos.

basement2Sasser imagines that this room was once where the printing presses for The Oregonian were located, and that as pages came off press, the workers yanked the occasional one off and plastered them on the walls.

According to Poynter, this explanation is probably not very likely. Which leaves the question: who scribbled these notes on the wall and left these ghostly images of women staring out at us? And why does the silence of the Internet resonate so strongly with the (imagined) roar of those old ink-and-paper presses?

 

In Media: ‘Newsweek’ Going Web-Only

In one of the less surprising media announcements of late, Newsweek said last week that they were ceasing publication of their print magazine at the end of 2012. The magazine, which has already been merged of sorts with Tina Brown’s web site The Daily Beast, will go to an online-subscription model next year. According to Paid Content:

…the magazine is slated to lose $40 million this year and has seen its subscribers fall from 3 million to 1.5 million in the last decade. More broadly, the company faced a more existential problem in that a “weekly news” magazine has become an anachronism in the digital world.

It makes sense ultimately, as Newsweek hasn’t really been able to keep up with the relevance of publications like The Economist,  Time or The Atlantic, which have shown the ability to keep a very vibrant web presence while not damaging the print product. Brown has tried to tart up the magazine of late, with dubious results:

Readers and media analysts have been puzzled by some of the covers Ms. Brown had chosen in an effort to distinguish Newsweek from other magazines and make it a talked-about publication again. Last November, she featured a cover story about sex addiction, and in May President Obama was shown wearing a rainbow-colored halo with a headline that read ”The First Gay President.”

And while Daily Beast is an interesting creature, mostly for its mix of rehashed news and original opinion plus the handy daily Cheat Sheet aggregator, the design is somewhat atrocious, navigation a pain, and the writing, well….

Founded in 1933 or not, this is a magazine whose time may have passed. See the cover shown at right for proof.

 

Media: The ‘Underpaid’ and the Unemployed

Last Friday, the already dangerously-thin hometown paper, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, announced that they were laying off 23 employees.
According to the Riverfront Times, that makes 234 people laid off from the Post-Dispatch since just 2008, and noted that the announcement in the paper itself was unbylined:
Is it unbylined because no one wanted to write it, or because there was no one left to write it, edit it and produce an image to accompany it?
One of the more piquant observations, though, came from Jim Romanesko:
The downsizing comes just days after [Post-Dispatch owner Lee Enterprises] CEO Mary Junck was awarded $655,000 in company stock because, according to Lee’s executive compensation committee, she is underpaid.

Media: Decline and Fall of the ‘Times-Picayune’

For all the ink spilled (sorry, bits uploaded) about the demoting of Ann Curry over at the Today show and whether or not David Gregory was in or out at Meet the Press, the most dramatic story in American media right now is still happening in New Orleans. The city’s daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, has a 175-year history. It was just about the only institution that managed to function during and just after Katrina. Even after the kind of budget cuts that small-minded owners in smaller media markets are so enamored of (“More With Less“), they were still putting out the kind of very strong investigative pieces that civic government needs to watchdog it.

Then came the news that the Times-Picayune owners were cutting back to three days a week. So, more layoffs. But no worries, the owners said, because our “enhanced” website is going to keep operating. One soon-to-be-laid-off reporter had an opinion on how that’s going to work and laid it out in a letter to the management:

I take a lot of pride in my work, even after I’ve been fired and told my experience, skills, and talents are of no use after Sept. 30. I know that I am good at what I do. But compared to other news outlets, our website is a joke. We break news – but no one would know because of the worst news website known to man and the priority setting – whoever is doing it, is totally ####. Embarrassing, compared to TV. And yet we are focused on digital now? Enhanced? Who is buying this crap?

Sad as this is, it does appear irreversible for the time being. For right now, New Orleans will be the only major American city without a daily print newspaper. It will not be the last. That means going forward, stories like this one will most likely not be uncovered. And the guilty will run free.