How ’premature exposure’ is short-changing readers

Recently I went to buy the new biography of Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin, prompted by the extensive reviews it had received in a range of papers over the past month.

Recently I went to buy the new biography of Jane Austen by Claire

Tomalin, prompted by the extensive reviews it had received in a range of

papers over the past month.



But I was thwarted. The book had not yet arrived in the shop. So I

trailed home empty-handed, after placing an order. This small incident,

which is replicated almost daily (a colleague takes reviews with him to

the shop, to prove the new book actually exists) confirmed what I know

is an underdebated consumer issue affecting all the media.



In the rush to be first, to scoop the opposition, and to serve up fresh

reviews and events, newspapers and magazines are far too often leaving

their readers trailing behind in frustration.



I attend press screenings, premieres, new magazine and book launches,

organised by conscientious and proactive PR people: most are highly

tuned to the very different lead times and needs of the various

publications.



I don’t think the blame of ’premature exposure’ lies with them. Nor is

it something which can be solved by imposing draconian deadlines. It

requires editors, and staff editing key review sections, to think more

carefully about the relevance of the service they are providing, and

whether they are connecting with the public, at the right time.



It is not the job of papers to actually sell books, or get people to try

out a new magazine or programme: publications are surely there to act as

guides and informers, to point readers to things they might enjoy or

require.



But unless those readers actually have some idea of the products upon

which the articles are based, or have some realistic chance of getting

hold of them, much that is written simply goes over their heads.



Further, the point at which you enjoy an interview with, say, a TV

writer, is when you have had a chance to see his latest work. Far too

often there is a great flurry of editorial weeks before a new series -

profiles by the ton of Jimmy McGovern ahead of the first episode of The

Lakes - but then no substantial attention paid to either him or the

issues contained within it, when the viewers are actually watching and

talking about it.



The same happens with film releases: a cascade of editorial about the

director/star/ writer, long before it goes on general release.



I was amused to see the process starting last weekend for Channel 4’s

forthcoming classic, A Dance to the Music in Time. Suddenly a profile of

the author, Anthony Powell, popped up in the Observer, two weeks before

it starts, but three days after a press screening. The thinking is all

too obvious: got there first, done him. Newspapers and magazines need to

change their hidebound mindsets. Make their coverage more relevant and

timely. There are times in life when it is best to be last, not first.



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