Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where's The Lede? Motoko Rich Edition

This is the first in an ongoing series presented by The Nytpicker, called "Where's The Lede?" in which we find the lede buried by a reporter somewhere in the body of the story, out of sight from all but the most careful readers.

Today's entry: "Booksellers and Publishers Nervous as Holiday Season Approaches, by Motoko Rich.

Rich's highly predictable account of publishers' fears about Christmas prospects -- they're scared they won't sell any books, as usual -- opens with a half-hearted attempt to tell what consumers think by interviewing two (yes, two!) prospective book buyers at Barnes & Noble. She goes on to quote executives speculating, guessing and complaining about everything, including Collins publisher Steve Ross railing against $22 cocktails at midtown hotels. "I think it will be awhile before I have the pleasure of meeting anybody there," he says. Where? Rich won't tell us.

It isn't until paragraph #17 that Rich reveals her lede: that comedian Jerry Seinfeld "was out with a book proposal this week that some publishers suggested could go for a high seven-figure advance."

Isn't that news? Only a few weeks ago, the sale of Tina Fey's book to Little, Brown was covered by the press as an ongoing news event. When politicians sell their memoirs, the Times covers the sale as they would a corporate merger. Seinfeld has already proven himself to be a huge bestselling author capable of single-handedly helping a publisher out of an economic crunch -- not to mention a media personality of intense interest to Times readers.

Instead of reporting actual news (the Seinfeld book proposal had only been reported as rumor by Publishers Weekly on November 4), Rich chose instead to trot out truisms about publishing that have been reported endlessly before -- that mid-list books aren't selling, that publishers still pay large sums for prospective best-sellers, and that companies are cutting costs. How many times can the Times tell us the same story? We'll start counting and let you know.

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