Story location:

February 4, 2005

Publishing News at PressThink

It was announced today at Publishers Marketplace as their "deal of the day." And it was in Publisher's Lunch, a popular e-mail alert. Gatekeepers Without Gates, my book project, has been greenlighted.

It was announced today at Publishers Marketplace (a pay site for industry players) under the heading “deal of the day.” And it was in Publisher’s Lunch: “Jay Rosen on how the Internet is changing media.”

The deal is: I have agreed to a contract with Times Books, a division of Henry Holt, to write a book about the press and everything that is happening to it in these days of the Internet. The working title (although this will probably change) is Gatekeepers Without Gates. If all goes well, it will be out sometime in 2006, hopefully sooner rather than later in the year.

Transparency Time

Times Books is a joint venture between the New York Times, flagship of the American press, and Henry Holt, the publishing house. The official history goes like this:

The New York Times Company bought Quadrangle Books, a Chicago book publisher, in 1969, changing the name to Times Books in 1977. But the forces of consolidation were at work against these smaller operations. In 1984, the Times licensed the imprint to Random House, and the editorial operation of Times Books moved there, to become a unit of a much larger firm.

The agreement with Random House expired in December of 1999. The Times Company owned the rights to Times Books, but chose not to re-launch it without a major publisher as partner, so the imprint faded for a while. In July 2000, The Times and Holtzbrinck Publishers, U.S. arm of the German global media company, announced an agreement to re-launch it.

Henry Holt and Company replaced Random House. The operation moved from Midtown to W. 18th Street in New York. Since the spring of 2001, Times Books is alive again as a joint venture between Holt (a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers) and the New York Times Company. The editorial director of Times Books is Paul Golob, who used to be at Public Affairs Books. He made the final decision. He also understands the book I want to write. He’s a fan of PressThink.

I will get more precise information on it soon, but it’s correct to say that publishing Gatekeepers Without Gates, or whatever it ends up being called, is a co-venture between Henry Holt and the New York Times Company. So that’s who’s publishing my book.

The question naturally comes: You’re a press critic, you write about the New York Times all the time (like… yesterday) and they’re involved in co-publishing your book. Did the conflict alarm go off?

Yes. The Times Company publishes the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and some smaller newspapers, any one of which I might write about. So the potential conflicts are numerous. The Times is a media company; not the same kind as a giant like Viacom, but a media company nonetheless. It has interests, stakes and “holdings.” Times Books is one.

PressThink readers are entitled to draw whatever conclusions they wish, and apply any discount rate they choose, to what I say, now that they know who is publishing my book (or planning to.) Between me as author and the journalists at the New York Times there is Henry Holt, a publishing house of high reputation, and the people who run the imprint, Times Books. Most especially there is Paul Golob, editorial director, and Robin Dennis, my editor. My agent, Kate Lee of ICM, recommended the match and thinks the book will be wanted there.

By agreeing to the deal, I trust in their professionalism; and I feel I have ample reason to do so. If you were to ask me why I felt comfortable with Times Books as my publisher, for a book that will look critically at the New York Times (and the Boston Globe, and others) one answer would be those people and their colleagues and the high standard they have set.

Another answer would be that it’s an advantage, and an honor, to be part of a publishing imprint that somehow connects back to the press, and to such principles of public service as animate the New York Times and its people. Such a publisher might better understand what I am up to. It’s in the DNA.

Perhaps that’s more than an author should have to say in announcing a simple book deal. Or not enough. Who knows? But in my Q and A about PressThink I said to readers: here’s where I’m coming from, I am not a neutral agent at all. (“My views on issues would be standard Upper West Side Liberal Jewish babyboomer— even though I don’t live in that neighborhood.”) That’s my blogger disclosure form. This is a continuation of that.

Yeah, but what about the book?

When I was in graduate school, I took a course in psychology that was simply a series of challenging psychology books, and a teacher who knew them all, very well, having taught the list before. (All my good courses were that way.)

In the next to last week of the term, he put aside his notes and the text for that week, and let us in on something. “In any good course,” he said, “there’s the reading list, the books you are assigned, which we discuss, and there is the Secret Book.” The students exchanged glances. “That’s the one not on the list. It’s the book I had to read in order to make this list, and teach this course.” We were starting to get it. “I am now going to tell you about the Secret Book.”

And he did, bringing it out of his briefcase to show us. (I still have my copy of the book, Changing Nature of Man: Introduction to a Historical Psychology by Jan Hendrick Van Den Berg.) This was the single most effective teaching trick I ever encountered, for we had all read the Secret Book by the final week of class. Therefore he could give the lecture that could only be given to those who had met the text with the same intensity he had. The Secret Book. What an idea!

But it doesn’t work if the book remains a secret. Gatekeepers Without Gates (a working title) I envision as the “secret book” behind the week-to-week posting at PressThink. Of course, that’s just a figure of speech. I could also say: the book will be the backstory to the story you can follow by clicking in here. A different figure of speech. For a preview of sorts, see Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over.

I will keep this weblog going; it’s working too well to stop. (You may see other writers more, or bigger changes if I can raise the money.) There’s no doubt PressThink got the publisher interested in the possibilities for this book. In my case, the blog was like a “live” proposal, where there is activity day and night. I haven’t decided whether to do a special blog for the book. (Some do that; see The Long Tail: “A public diary on the way to a book,” or the blog for Darknet.) For now, not.

I’m excited about the deal; of course a book is a lot of work. (“Like pushing a mountain through your head,” says a friend who’s done it.) Just describing where we are in journalism today is daunting. Measuring up to Dan Gillmor’s We the Media— equally daunting.

“More is up for grabs than has ever been up for grabs since I started my watch,” I said in Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over. I believe that. The book I hope to write essentially begins there.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

I will be happy to explain more in the comments for those who are interested. And of course you are invited to tell me what my book should be about.

Publisher’s Markerplace announcement: “Jay Rosen’s book on the media, exploring the ways in which the Internet has transformed, and will continue to transform, the press through web logs and other interactive forms, including a look at why an interactive, open-source press is gaining public support and views on what big media corporations and journalists must do to regain the public’s trust, to Robin Dennis at Times Books, by Kate Lee at ICM (world).”

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 4, 2005 3:02 PM