paper trail

Literary Hub’s summer book highlights; The struggle of reporting on COVID-19

Megha Majumdar. Photo: Elena Seibert

Literary Hub has posted its Summer Books Preview for 2020. Highlights include Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, Megha Majumdar’s A Burning, and Patrick Hoffman’s Clean Hands.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Lauren Harris reflects on the difficulty of reporting on COVID-19 and explains why journalists must work to contextualize expert information for readers. “It’s tempting for journalists to see themselves as outside observers. They are not. Reporters gather bits of information and cobble them together—superimposing narratives, culling expert voices, using semantic sleight-of-hand to show readers where to look. The press is part of the system,” she writes. “The things we know and the things we believe about this particular pathogen, driven largely by reporting, can strongly influence its global spread. . . . Journalists draw conclusions; readers make decisions.”

“Writing is an emotionally vulnerable act. Creating good stories requires editors to be partners in the process, and to cultivate trust—by treating writers not only as professional colleagues, but also as human beings,” writes Sarah Gilman on the relationship between editors and writers. “When care is absent during a crisis, that trust evaporates. And with editors in control of assignments, a power dynamic can emerge that will be familiar to many freelancers: the writer suffers politely while the editor—sometimes oblivious, sometimes not—tramples them.”

At the Daily Beast, Kali Holloway reports on conflict at the North Star, Shaun King and Benjamin Dixon’s “ambitious multimedia reboot of Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist newspaper,” which was launched last year. Despite bringing in more than 30,000 paid subscribers and several angel investors, the website has laid off a number of staffers and is floundering. While King blames the issues on “his tendency to take on too much, too soon,” former employees said the site struggled because of King’s “absenteeism, insistence on absolute control, and radical incompetence.”