How News Works

While following the Supreme Court’s debate on the healthcare law I found myself looking at three identical articles in three different major papers.

NYPD officer convicted of sex assault; jurors continue to deliberate on rape (Washington Post)

Jury tensions rise in NYC officer’s rape trial (San Francisco Chronicle)

NYPD officer convicted of sex assault (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Two problems here, pointing in different directions.

1) Google News needs to figure out that the original source for all three of these is the Associated Press and link to that.

2) Why would I not subscribe to the AP directly?

I suspect fear of 2 is why 1 is the way it is. I don’t mind at all linking to a good story elsewhere, but if you’re reprinting it as your reporting that isn’t a compelling argument for me to buy your paper.

Just downloaded and deleted the Boston Globe’s new ePaper app, which recreates the print edition exactly for iPad and iPhone. Which is a really weird idea, especially for an iPhone app.

And in the meantime, to prove I’m not oatmealing on newspapers, I bought a subscription to the New York Times online. It’s a better product, more complete, better thought-through, easier to use. Which is why it baffles me that The Globe (owned by Times Corp.) is so hapless digitally so far.

Why, Publishers, Why?

I am trying so hard to like ebooks, really I am. The Kindle is the first e-reader that makes any sense to me at all as something to actually read for long periods on, and it achieves one of its design goals in that it disappears and you stop noticing the device.

Except when the text is mangled by the conversion process.

Two examples from today.

  • the last three chapters or so of Martin Middlebrook’s First Day on the Somme are center-justified for no apparent reason
  • Barbara Tuchman’s flowing prose in the opening of Guns of August hit a brick wall when she switched to French while quoting Czar Alexander III on Kaiser Wilhelm: “un garçon mat élevé”. My print edition confirms that the quote is “un garçon mal élevé” (he is a badly educated man).

So, am I being nitpicky? Well, the fifty cent paperback copy of Guns of August is flawlessly proofread. And the eight dollar Kindle edition isn’t. The maps and the footnotes in the Kindle edition of Middlebrook are unreadable; haven’t checked the print edition yet, but it was published before 1970, so I’m guessing the proofreading was pretty good also and that the maps make sense for the size of the book.

Every time something like that happens, it jars me out of my peaceful reading reverie and reminds me that I have a device in my hands. Every time I spend money on a badly done ebook it makes me less likely to buy more.

So my request to publishers is this: Please spend the time editing your electronic editions that you do on your print ones. Otherwise you’re charging me full price for a crummier product, which makes me unhappy. I’m a librarian—I have lots of options, personally and professionally, for books with even worse profit margins for you.

I want this to work. I want to buy ebooks from you. Please sell me a product you have a right to be proud of.