As My Future Self Feels Good About HuffPo, My Past Self Is Determined To Get Me Fired

I love book publishing. It’s my favourite industry in the world, staffed by some of my favourite people and producing content that, more than in any other medium, is capable of changing the world. Being a published author, in a respected publishing house, is the sine qua non of success as a writer.

And yet – there’s one aspect of publishing that is just plain infuriating. And that’s the lead times.

Just over a year ago, I wrote the final sentence of my newest book. Since then, the manuscript has been through round after round of edits, libel reading, further edits, typesetting, proof reading, cover designing, pre-sales and more — and it’s still just shy of two months away from publication. By comparison, I started writing this blog post about thirty seconds ago and it’ll be posted in another minute or two, typos and all.

Generally, the only real price of publishing’s monstrous lead times is boredom, and a dash of frustration: a price well worth paying. Every so often, though, in the time between writing and publication, circumstances will change and bite you in the ass. Which is exactly what just happened to me. And it wasn’t even one of my own books.

The book was Steven Rosenbaum’s Curation Nation, which was published last month by McGrawHill. In the book, Rosenbaum examines the rise of “curation” and argues that, as we become increasingly swamped by digital content, it will become more and more important to have skilled editors and guides to filter it all for us. It seems like a really interesting  book: I can’t wait to have someone read it for me.

Anyway – months and months and months ago, while he was researching the book, Steven emailed me to ask me to clarify some comments I made about Forbes new online content strategy, as masterminded by “chief product officer”, Lewis Dvorkin.

To be honest, I have almost no recollection of what I said in response to Steven’s email. As I say, it was a long time ago. Fortunately, though, thanks to publishing lead times, I’ve just been reminded. Waiting for me today at TCHQ was a copy of the book, featuring my words as fresh as if I’d just uttered them…

Dvorkin’s innovations have drawn fire from, of all places, the blogosphere, where TechCrunch writer and former magazine journalist Paul Carr flamed the changes to Forbes. He wrote that the Forbes decision would result in the magazine suffering the “Death of a Thousand Hacks.” It seemed worth asking him what he meant by “hacks.”

“It has two meanings.” Carr told me. “The first, much like the death of a thousand cuts, is that they’re chipping away at everything they used to represent by replacing real reporting with SEO-driven bullshit and an army of unpaid amateur hack bloggers. The second meaning is that those thousand hacks are going to kill their brand.” Now, to be clear, Carr isn’t against what he considers expert curation, just the kind that he says is done indiscriminately.

“Curation is what museums do, what encyclopedias do, what travel guides and experts do,” Carr said. “Unfortunately in recent months, it’s come to mean something else: lazily cutting and pasting and quoting from other people’s hard work and calling it content. Curation without expertise is just scrapbooking.” But, of course, expert curation isn’t scrapbooking; it’s creating contextual content.

Carr isn’t one to mince words about what he sees as the scam and as low-value curation. In his mind, it’s just free labor. Theft. “No, not everyone will get paid,” he said. “That’s just bullshit peddled by sites who want people to curate for free in exchange for the promise of money if you’re good enough at driving traffic. It just rewards SEO attention-seeking with false promises. It’s evil squared.”

Ok, fine. As it happens I stand by everything I said about Forbes. Unfortunately, it seems I didn’t stop at Forbes…

Yikes! Evil squared. So, who is evil squared, exactly? Carr takes aim: “ has always been shit, and I’m disappointed in Michael Wolff for creating it. I used to like him. He used to care about content. Huffington was great, but now they’re chasing traffic and SEO and filling up their pages with slideshows and sex tapes and horseshit.”

Yikes indeed. Of course, in the time between my email interview with Steven and the book coming out, TechCrunch and the Huffington Post have now became part of the same “happy” “family”. Moreover, last weekend Sarah Lacy and I wrote about the hiring of John Montorio and how – hopefully – it’s another sign that HuffPo is moving away (slightly) from SEO and back towards journalistically-driven editorial. And couple of days ago, I grudgingly admitted to a colleague here at TechCrunch that  for the first time since our acquisition by Aol, I was starting to feel like, things might be – very slowly – starting to head in the right direction, corporate-editorially speaking.

But then today, thanks to publishing’s ridiculous lead times, I just time travelled from the past and punched my boss’s boss on the nose yet again.

Still, it could be worse. I mean, what are the odds that Arianna, or anyone at the Huffington Post will read the book? Nil, right?


Thanks, publishing!