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Oct. 30, 2008, 2:24 p.m.

BU panel: Doom, gloom, and the promise of a nice advance

[We had two folks attending Boston University’s one-day conference on non-fiction book publishing yesterday. Below, the morning session from Chris Vognar. —Ed.]

Official title of the morning session Wednesday: “The Writer’s View.” Unofficial title: “Newspapers are screwed.”

But hey at least there’s hope — at least if you’ve got your act, schedule, finances and connections together enough to get a successful book published. The conference, which featured writers in the morning and publishers in the afternoon, came complete with a cumbersome name: “The Nonfiction Book as the Last Best Home for Journalism.” But the panelists were among the best and the brightest in the game, so they came with some alternative titles. My personal favorite came courtesy of Charlie Savage: “The Last Man Standing for Serious Journalism as Our Industry Dies.”

OK, so it doesn’t go down so easy.

Neither do newspapers. But on a morning abuzz with news of The Christian Science Monitor’s decision to go online only, they certainly seem to be going down.

A Pulitzer winner as a national reporter for the Boston Globe and author of Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, Savage was one of five panelists trying to sound hopeful amid metaphors of bacteria feasting on the carcass of a once-proud industry.

Among the tidbits offered from other panelists:

Ron Suskind, once a Pulitzer winner for feature writing with The Wall Street Journal, now the author of books including The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism: “We’re going through an extraordinary time of change and havoc. Bad things are happening to a good and important industry that’s not just the link sausage business.”

Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace writer for The New York Times and author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker: “Books allow you to pull a big corpus of knowledge together in a way that you can’t when you write 800 words on this story or that story.”

Linda Robinson, a contributing editor for US News and World Report and author of Tell me How it Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq: “The premise of this conference is roughly correct. There’s no longer any debate about what’s happening in this industry.” (Robinson also won the conference’s coveted Longest Job Title Award: “author at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies’ Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies”).

Dick Lehr, former Globe reporter, journalism professor at BU and author of books including the forthcoming The Fence: A Police Cover-Up Along Boston’s Racial Divide: “We’re part of a golden age for nonfiction book writing.”

Nice work if you can get it. Good night and good luck.

Chris Vognar is an arts critic for The Dallas Morning News. He is the 2009 Arts and Culture Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

POSTED     Oct. 30, 2008, 2:24 p.m.
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