When MSNBC first docked Keith Olberman and then Joe Scarborough for political donations, it was just another in a series of bizarro split personality calls.
You see, MSNBC is a network that counts on opinionated and outspoken program hosts like Olberman to generate controversy, audience, and ratings. So when NBC tells Olberman to be partisan, political, and biased, and then punishes him for not obeying NBC News standards, it should be more than clear that NBC is talking out of both sides of their mouth.
More broadly, however, the recent controversy illuminates the hypocrisy of the media industry. The news business is struggling with how to align its old rules with the new reality of fast moving, hyper-linked social media.
Take, for example, The New York Times. The Times has done a remarkable job of embracing the new realities of what Arianna Huffington calls “the linked economy” — embracing a wide range of sources and voices in its print pages and on the Web. The paper has added hyper-local content from Fwix and Outside In, and even shares some of its star columnists with other media outlets. David Pogue, for example, can be found reporting for CBS Sunday Morning, CNBC, or on The Discovery Channel.
So, it seems like the Times gets it right.
Well, not so fast.
It seems there’s one thing that The New York Times writers are forbidden to do. A thing that makes it impossible for writers to do the one thing they do well, easily, and with pleasure. They’re not allowed to write.
Specifically — they’re forbidden to blurb.
What exactly is a blurb? It’s a “brief statement praising a literary product” and it dates back to medieval literature from the 14th century. Back then it was known as taqriz in medieval Arabic literature.
the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel
The book cover was emblazoned with the phrase: “YES, this is a ‘BLURB’!” and a picture the fictitious young woman “Miss Belinda Blurb” shown calling out, described as “in the act of blurbing.”
Today, blurbing is a long-held and widely-accepted tradition within literary circles. Authors will often ask other authors to read pre-publication galleys of forthcoming work and supply a brief endorsement of the work.
Not all writers blurb, and not all books are blurbable. But there’s no doubt that if you’re standing in the aisle at Barnes & Noble, a book jacket endorsement from a writer whose work you’ve enjoyed in the past can help seal the deal.
But it appears that this long-held tradition isn’t one that The Times abides by.
In fact, a number of Times writers and contributors have told me that they’re not allowed to blurb.
I get it — blurbing is considered an endorsement — and the Times doesn’t want its writers engaging in biased behaviour. But today, in an increasingly saturated world of information, the ability of a respected and well-known writer to recommend another piece of work helps readers to filter through all the noise. And the Times is pulling its writers out of this important curation eco-system.
For a Times writer to blurb a book is valuable. And Times writers should know that if allowed, they should use that endorsement with discretion. But hey, it’s time to let Times writers have a blurb or two — don’t you think?
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