Published on: January 5, 2012
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
I love the old line from “Spider-Man”... “With great power comes great responsibility.”
May I suggest a corollary that has relevance for anyone trying to be relevant in a 21st century, technological culture?
“With great speed comes heightened expectations.”
I discovered this last week while on vacation. I read about a half-dozen books during the holiday, and one of them was entitled “The Right Fights Back,” by Evan Thomas and Mike Allen.
I mentioned this book on MNB when it was published a month ago. It is an e-book from Politico, and is designed to be a modern equivalent of the old Teddy White - “The Making of a President” classics. But unlike the old days - like, four years ago, when “Game Change” came out after the election - you don’t have to wait for the polls to close and the results to be announced and analyzed. “The Right Fights Back” is coming out in a series of installments between now the the November elections, promising real-time reporting, behind the scenes insights, and expert analysis.
All of which it delivers, though I wonder if anyone other than politics junkies will be interested.
But, there’s a problem.
It’s not all that real time. Between the time I downloaded the book and read it, Herman Cain dropped out of the race. Newt Gingrich surged, then came back to earth. Rick Santorum got some momentum. And Donald Trump left the GOP and became an independent. (Don’t worry if you did not know this last one. It may be the most meaningless piece of political news you’ll ever run into.)
The thing is, as a writer and reporter, and as a reader, I understand that news is perishable. The minute you put a story to bed, you run the risk of being obsolete because something else happens. That’s one of the things threatening the traditional newspaper business. And I accept that when I pick up the dead-tree version of the New York Times, it is going to be about 8-10-12 hours behind the news curve.
It was funny though. The same rules apply to an e-book, but because I was reading it on my iPad, my expectations were different. The bar was higher. And so, I was disappointed by the fact that the Herman Cain-Newt Gingrich-Rick Santorum stuff wasn’t there. It’ll make the next edition, sure ... but the stuff in that book also will be out of date.
This is a great lesson. Technology raises expectations. Speed raises expectations. If we don’t meet those expectations - or at the very least, are not clear about our goals and processes - then we run the risk of disappointing and even disenfranchising the customer. And that’s never good.
It simply may be that updating this book with new editions and chapters every few months won’t be enough. News is perishable, and that could be too long to wait. It may be that modern expectations will create a publishing animal that needs to be updated and improved every day, or at last every couple of days. Of course, then what you have is a website - like Politico - and I’m not sure what that means to the concept of a current affairs book. But the publishers have to be thinking about this.
One other thing. When they do update the book, I’d suggest that they go to location 422 in the book, which has Mitt Romney enjoying the occasional Diet Coke. I’m reasonably sure that, being a devout Mormon, Romney actually is enjoying a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke ... and since issues of values and religiosity are front and center in this primary season, that’s more than a semantic difference.
You can be fast. But you also have to get the little stuff right.
That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: