Sunday, January 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Steven Huff

Today’s guest blogger is poet and fiction writer, Steven Huff, the Director of Adult Education and Programming at Writers & Books. W&B is one of those things that make Rochester such a cool place and many area authors, including me, honed our craft in its classrooms. Steve also teaches creative writing at RIT and the Eastman School of Music, and is the voice of “Fiction in Shorts” on WXXI-FM, the local PBS affiliate. Steve’s latest book of poems, More Daring Escapes, is available at all the usual sources (and I suggest your local bookstore first but include the Amazon link so you can read the great review). His latest book of stories, A Pig in Paris is available from Lake Affect Publishers. His previous books include The Water We Came From, published in 2003 by FootHills, and Proof, which was named Editor’s Choice in the 2004 Two Rivers Review Chapbook Competition.

The Online Culture, the Demise of Newspapers, and Bye-bye Book Reviews

Recently a writing tutor at RIT, where I teach, told me something that surprised me—at least a little. He said that, statistically, today’s college undergraduates read and write more than any definable age group in human history. How can that be true? Because they’re online all the time, emailing, text-messaging, reading other people’s missives. They may not be reading books. I may have a hell of a time trying to get them to read “Shooting an Elephant,” a short and simple essay by Orwell. But it isn’t because they won’t read.

What concerns me also—and this is not unrelated—is the demise of the newspaper. We heard this week that employees all across the Gannett newspaper system are being asked to take a week off without pay. Meanwhile, the papers are getter thinner, and people are not turning to the online versions. I do not know anyone personally other than myself who regularly reads an online edition of a newspaper. My students who spend all day online do not, because I have asked them. But they’re reading (and writing) all the time.

I used to head a well-known literary book publishing company, BOA Editions, Ltd. When I came into that position in 1996, a good share of the reviews of our books appeared in newspapers that accepted reviews from freelancers in their own communities. Our local Gannett paper stopped doing that a long time ago, but a few papers still do. But as papers shrink, book reviews are going on the chopping block, along with longer in-depth articles and investigative reporting. Online reviews appear, but I rarely hear anyone talk about a review he or she has read in an online publication.

So, as a culture, we’re reading more, while we know less and less of what the hell is going on in the world around us. By the way—and this is not unrelated—where the hell is Iraq?

Steve Huff


Katherine said...

It's funny that you should write this at this time. I was just in a group of "seasoned" people who were lamented the demise of the newspaper. Reading the morning news is part of my routine and without it I fell lost thoughout the day. I gain better insight to a news story when I read it. I do not like to read the online version. If I have to read something on line I end up printing it out. Alas, I believe I will be one of those who wander the desert looking for a good newspaper.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been very concerned about what is happening to newspapers. Even The New York Times is in financial trouble. Reporters are being laid off everywhere. Book reviews have definitely been cut. As a writer and an avid reader, I am very concerned. But our entire economy is in dire distress. We are in a depression that effects our country and most of the world. Here's hoping that our presidential inauguration will have real meaning in changing things for the better!

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star/Gale, Wheeler large print
coming in February: THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale