Tag Archives: publishing

Social Media, Greensboro Sit Ins, Malcolm Gladwell and Potential Plagiarism

In an extensive piece that explores whether or not Malcolm Gladwell engaged in plagiarism for several articles he wrote for The New Yorker, Our Bad Media cites a 1970 book on the Greensboro sit ins as one of the sources he allegedly copied without attribution. From the Our Bad Media piece:

In his 2010 New Yorker column “Small Change,” Gladwell took a skeptical look at the use of social media as a tool for activists, discussing the often over-hyped impact of Facebook and Twitter’s effects on protests around the world. He drew parallels throughout the piece to the civil rights movement, mostly by recounting the story of the historic 1960 Greensboro sit-ins, when four black college students began a protest at Woolworth’s over its whites-only lunch counter.

Whereas the previous examples may have been limited in scope, the entirety of Gladwell’s description of the Greensboro sit-ins in his column—including quotes, descriptions of the Woolworth’s, and the sequence of events—are lifted from Miles Wolff’s authoritative but obscure 1970 book, Lunch at the Five and Ten.

We double-checked the print versions of The New Yorker to check if the online edition omitted any attributions or citations. It doesn’t. Gladwell again makes no mention of the author or his book despite building an entire column around it.

Below are the side-by-side comparisons of all Greensboro-related passages from the print edition of Gladwell’s article (in order) and the relevant passages from Wolff’s book.

If you follow the link to the post you’ll find close to a dozen excerpts from Gladwell’s article that match passages from the book. Methinks he might be in some hot water.

Back to the Future in Publishing

Dana Blankenhorn makes a good argument for publishers turning back the clock:

Back in the print era, journalism meant organizing and advocating a place, an industry or a lifestyle. It should mean that again.

Newspapers could prove to car dealers that of the X number of people driving past their stores each day, Y% took the newspaper. Magazines could show that of the X number of decision makers in the business Y% took the magazine – they would have names, titles, addresses. Filling out the “qual card” got you the publication for free, while others had to pay for it. And the more important readers got copies without even sending in the qualcard. Consumer publications could survey their readership and prove to people selling to that lifestyle that X percent of their market, with Y amount of buyign power, subscribed to the publication…

Journalism is not a trade, and it's not a profession. It is the creation of markets. It's putting buyers and sellers together, aggregating and organizing both sides so that you have well-informed buyers hitting the buy button, and getting satisfaction from their purchases.

On Publishing

Dana Blankenhorn has an excellent post on the demise of newspapers as we've known them and the future of publishing in general. Here's the money quote:

Your job, as a publisher, remains what it was in the 19th century. Define a market, aggregate both the buyers and sellers, and stimulate financial transactions between them. Publishing is a market-making proposition, and those who create the best marketplaces win. Every time.

These are still the early innings of the online publishing game. The collapse of newspapers is a gift from above, not a plague. It opens up vast new opportunities for people who have learned their business, publishers and editors both.


Everyone Should Have a Printing Press

I just read an interesting interview with Evan Williams, founder of Twitter (and Blogger) that had a great quote:

In response to a question from the audience about Twitter empowering people to publish and act as journalists, Williams — who founded Blogger and later sold it to Google — said that “lowering the barrier to publishing” has been something he has spent most of his career on, and this is because he believes that “the open exchange of information has a positive effect on the world — it’s not all positive, but net-net it is positive.” With Twitter, he said, “we’ve lowered the barriers to publishing almost as far as they can go,” and that is good because if there are “more voices and more ways to find the truth, then the truth will be available to more people — I think this is what the Internet empowers [but] society has not fully realized what this means.”

I like Fred Wilson's take on this too:

When I started blogging back in 2003, I would tell everyone how awesome it was. A common refrain back then was "not everyone should have a printing press." I didn't agree then and I don't agree now. Everyone should have a printing press and should use it as often as they see fit. Through things like RSS and Twitter's follow model, we can subscribe to the voices we want to hear regularly. And through things like reblog and retweet, the voices we don't subscribe to can get into our readers, dashboards, and timelines.

If I look back at my core investment thesis over the past five years, it is this single idea, that everyone has a voice on the Internet, that is central to it. And as Ev said, society has not fully realized what this means. But it's getting there, quickly.

Popularity Contest

Anyone familiar with the publishing business and/or the rubber chicken circuit will be thoroughly unshocked by this revelation:

Mitt Romney boosted sales of his book this spring by asking institutions to buy thousands of copies in exchange for his speeches, according to a document obtained by POLITICO…

The hosts ranged from Claremont McKenna College to the Restaurant Leadership Conference, many of whom are accustomed to paying for high-profile speakers like Romney. Asking that hosts buy books is also a standard feature of book tours. But Romney's total price — $50,000 — was on the high end, and his publisher, according to the document from the book tour — provided on the condition it not be described in detail — asked institutions to pay at least $25,000, and up to the full $50,000 price, in bulk purchases of the book. With a discount of roughly 40 percent, that meant institutions could wind up with more than 3,000 copies of the book — and a person associated with one of his hosts said they still have quite a pile left over.


Seth on Publishing

I pretty much agree on Seth Godin's assessment of the current state of the publishing industry:

Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

The thing is–now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn't help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can't think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" To be succinct: I'm not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.

My audience does things like buy five or ten copies at a time and distribute them to friends and co-workers. They (you) forward blog posts and PDFs. They join online discussion forums. None of these things are supported by the core of the current corporate publishing model.

What Our Reading Might Look Like Not Too Far in the Future

If you have any interest in the publishing biz or are a fan of magazines then you really need to read Rex Hammock's blog.  Of all the people I follow he seems to have the best grasp of where the industry is going and, more importantly, he's one of the few who seems to know what he doesn't know.  A recent post included a video about how traditional magazine content might be presented on what Rex has dubbed "pad devices." Here's the video, but read Rex's post as it has links to a couple of other interesting and related pieces.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Everything Old is New Again

I read this Gartner blog post about the government making its data more easily accessible with a little smile on my face because it caused me to have a little "Back to the Future Moment" moment.  More specifically I enjoyed this part:

A conversation with a federal client on Monday about this last aspect was illuminating. He observed that certain data may allow businesses to create services that they charge for and profit from. If successful, these services, irrespective of whether they are useful to the public, would put a significant demand on the government infrastructure. The question then would be how to strike a fair balance between providing data transparency and access to the public, and ensuring that taxpayer money is not being used to subsidize businesses.

I hate to tell them, but there's been a nice little sector of the publishing industry that's made a killing off of repackaging public data since well before the internet even existed.  They did it by compiling relevant data for readers that was easier to digest than the "off the shelf" data provided by the government and/or the information was delivered in a more timely manner.  To me this worry is a lot of noise about nothing; the government has to provide the public access to its data as part of its mandate and worrying about businesses being subsidized by this activity is, to me, nonsensical.  Companies won't be in business long if they simply regurgitate data, but they can build a nice business if they add a little value for consumers (insight, context, timeliness, etc.) and I think everyone benefits from that in the long run.