Monday, July 30, 2012

Tweeters gonna tweet

Somebody drew my attention to yesterday's Toby Manhire tweet (above) later retweeted by the New Zealand Listener itself.

Toby Manhire, a loyal columnist for the New Zealand Listener, was having a dig at a rival organ, the Sunday Star-Times.

What is it about? The Sunday Star-Times yesterday carried an 'exclusive' preview of the brand-new collection Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories by Janet Frame. The extract they featured, 'The Painter', was one of the 'uncollected' short stories, which the SS-T clearly indicated in a large caption under the title, adding further that the story was first published in the 1970s.

The story ran in their glossy 'Sunday' magazine, and on the cover of that lift-out was the teaser: "JANET FRAME: An exclusive story from a new collection".

Now, the running of an excerpt from a newly released book is a publishing convention that the Listener also adheres to. Why just recently the Listener ran an extract from a memoir by a well-known author who once met Janet Frame for several minutes, and the Listener dedicated a column and a half to the author's reminiscences of that brief meeting. The Listener also found it appropriate to publish a photograph of Janet Frame to illustrate the clearly momentous nature of the fleeting - but memorable - meeting.

Furthermore, the Listener is currently advertising an "exclusive print interview with Anne Perry". I'm pretty sure that doesn't compare at all with any of Anne Perry's other exclusive print interviews, or with the simultaneous 'exclusive TV interview' that was screened last night.

The claim to be running an 'exclusive print interview'  of course refers - to anyone who is communicating cooperatively - to the fact that the interview is being timed to publicise a newly published biography of Anne Perry.

So clearly the problem isn't with the convention of having an 'exclusive', or with an 'excerpt' run as a taster for prospective readers of important new books. These things act as promotion for the book, and provide noteworthy or prestigious copy for the newspaper or magazine.

So what is Toby Manhire's problem? Is he suggesting the SS-T didn't know the Janet Frame story was already published (nearly 40 years ago, mind, in the glorious heyday of the Listener)?

But the Sunday Star-Times did know, and they said so, in large bold print.

Does Toby object to what he sees as the misuse of the word 'exclusive' (forgetting for a moment the fact that he is a journalist and that 'exclusive' is also a common publishing jargon word)  given that you might still have your copy of the decades-old Listener (possibly older than Toby himself) at your breakfast table?

This is what is wrong with that kind of snide tweet, of course: the word limit means there is no room for all the pieces of information that are needed for a truthful account of a situation, but there is just enough time for an innuendo that may lead anyone who reads it, to jump to a false conclusion.

Toby Manhire does not mention that the SS-T has acknowledged previous publication.

The publicity material around Gorse is Not People is very clear about the composition of the book, not that you could fit this information into a tweet (even if you wanted to): more than half of the 28 stories in Gorse is Not People have never been published before, so this is predominantly a book of previously unpublished work (especially given the fact that one story - 'The Big Money ' written on Ibiza in 1957 - is around 10,000 words long). Of the rest, five stories have been published posthumously by the Janet Frame estate. The others were first published in Janet Frame's lifetime (in journals such as Harper's Bazaar, and the School Journal, and yes, the Listener) but the stories were never 'collected' by Frame, which means that she never included them in a book of her stories. So these, including 'The Painter' will be little-known to the modern reader, having been published overseas, or decades ago.

In any case, I do want to clarify, in the light of the above tweet, that there was no deception on the part of the Sunday Star-Times about the previously published status of the story. And there was no deception on the part of the Janet Frame estate either. The book itself carries full citations for the seven stories that were published in Janet Frame's lifetime, including 'The Painter'.

The Sunday magazine of the Sunday Star-Times is obviously proud to be the only NZ magazine to have the privilege of running an extract from Gorse is Not People. They have beautifully presented this fine Janet Frame story to a contemporary readership, thus securing, as they say on their cover: "An exclusive story from a new collection".


@toby_etc and @nzlistener probably should have looked at the cover of their own magazine the NZ Listener before they accused the Sunday Star-Times of misusing the word 'Exclusive':

NZ Listener, 4 August 2012:
Cover headline boasts: "EXCLUSIVE" - interview with Anne Perry.
The magazine went on sale on Monday July 30th. 
On Sunday July 29th TV3 screened an 'exclusive' interview with Anne Perry.

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