Haste Makes Waste Again
Yesterday the Independent Review Board released their 234 page report. They were investigating the CBS News team and their reporting about President Bush’s National Guard Record during last fall’s election. Listening to the news stories, I was struck again with a few phrases like “rushed to air the story without verifying the facts.” Or Bill Carter in his story, Post-Mortem of a Flawed Broadcast, on the New York Times website wrote, “The panel found that the "60 Minutes" program that dealt with President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard was unfair and misleading after being rushed to broadcast without proper vetting.” (my emphasis underlined)
Publishing is a competitive business—more so in the broadcast and newspaper media (fast paced) than in magazines and books (which have longer production times). Each publisher wants to be the first to have a particular topic or slant on a topic in the market. With the popularity of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, a number of religious publishers produced books against the inaccurate nonfiction sprinkled in the pages of this fiction story. To my personal amazement, last fall Doubleday released The DaVinci Code Special Illustrated Edition (retails at $35) and combines real pictures with the fiction story to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction (in my estimation)—yet also toward the top of the current fiction bestseller list. My supervisor at my former publisher told me about their work on Cracking DaVinci’s Code by James L. Garlow and Peter Jones. They produced the entire book from idea to finished book in 90 days. It took focused effort on their part. I know they canceled editors going to conferences and other things to mobilize this effort. It paid off for the publisher since they had the first of a number of these types of books—and they gained the sales as a result (over135,000 copies were in print in about two months). In this particular case, the publisher rushed to publication and it amounted to a success story for their sales—because they tapped a key need in the audience.
Other times within publishing, I’ve seen this haste to publish result in discarding the printed product and re-doing it. It’s unfortunate what gets missed when you are rushing to get something into print.
Last week, I turned in a short book review on assignment. I’ve written for this publication many times over the years but I faced a new request from the editor. In my short review (less than 250 words), I quoted from the book which I was reviewing. The editor asked me to fax her a copy of the page with the quote because she didn’t have this book and she “always checks the quotes.” It was a first for me because I’ve never had her check one of my quotes—and I don’t happen to have a working fax machine. Instead, I scanned the particular page into a JPG and emailed it to her. Initially I was a bit bothered to have to go through this fact-checking process for this small circulation publication. Then today I thought about it again and applauded this editor’s desire to get it right. She is a one person editor for her entire magazine—and yet she is diligently checking the quotations to assure accuracy. I gained a new respect for this particular editor’s good work.
Throughout publishing, management is trying to figure out how to meet their bottom line. Often this means layoffs of excellent people and more work for the editors who remain on the staff. Almost everyone I know in these positions is putting in long hours of editing and taking work home to meet the demands of the volume of work flying across their desk. It’s not easy work nor high paying—and these editors want to get the details right. They don’t want to make waste because of their necessary haste. If they don’t hasten, then they might not be able to retain their positions within their publishing house (a harsh but true reality). Across the entire publishing marketplace, I hear complaints that editors are doing less editing—and it’s true. With the pressure to produce volume, they have less time to edit and fact check. The responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the writers. We have to get it right at the beginning of the project. The CBS experience was a good reminder to me—to check the details and if possible, not hasten the process. I don’t want my haste to end up as waste.