Throughout its most recent issues, Atlantic has published short stories, anecdotes, news bits and other pieces written by the likes of George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury, literary legends who have been deceased for decades. Nonetheless, their works are timeless, and have conjured up significant followings in the years after their initial publications, allowing not only the authors' names to be recognized, but their writing styles to be emulated, celebrated and sought after by all ages.
Young and Folkenflik discussed the reasons Atlantic has decided to re-publish such old pieces, of which there are many. For one (and I'm preaching to the choir if there are any fellow journalists reading this), from a journalistic standpoint, we are currently experiencing a transition period, as a result of which media outlets have been forced to redesign, re-plan, reevaluate and unfortunately, remove many positions, especially at print media organizations (as evidenced by The New York Times' recent elimination of 100 jobs). That being said, a portion of Atlantic's strategy must be attributed to cost-cutting measures.
Additionally, because readers "get enmeshed and engrossed in things that are about themes that play out beyond just the moment in which it was written," Folkenflik said that advertisers are drawn to what is trendy among the most influential and dedicated readers. "That's something that subscribers may be more willing to pay for, whether online or in print," he said.
Another major method behind Atlantic's madness is rather simple. "They're saying, 'Look, this is content that has proven the test of time,'" according to Folkenflik. Name recognition has apparently benefited Atlantic, allowing readers to automatically generate interest based on their personal enjoyment of the legendary authors' literary works. At the very least, the average reader was assigned 1984, The Old Man and the Sea and Fahrenheit 451 while in high school, and is therefore familiar with names such as Orwell (pictured at left), Hemingway and Bradbury.
Folkenflik also said, "People are more likely to spend more time on stories that aren't transient, that aren't about what happened just a moment ago." Atlantic has simply amended headlines to appear more flashy and modern, and in effect has doubled the circulation of many stories, especially those written by Orwell that have been shared via social media. In doing so, Folkenflik said he feels that publications are "binding" readers to their news sources in the same way that loyal listeners bind themselves to public radio stations such as NPR, often not only through listening habits, but also through monetary donations and merchandise purchases.
Regardless of why Atlantic is taking part in this recent phenomenon (which I support because of the element of timelessness many classic authors provide us), I believe there is an important question that must be raised, one which reflects our ability to create news and write in the 21st century: Do we have a lack of truly classical writers today?
There is a traditional question regarding something to the effect of "What will our children read when they are in school?" Many people suggest the Harry Potter series, which is a respectable choice. Though I have not read the entire series, it is one which admittedly revolutionized young adult fiction for an entire generation, and to J.K. Rowling's credit was rather well-written, unlike many hit-of-the-year series which shall not be named here (but may or may not have received multi-film deals with big-name Hollywood stars).
Aside from Rowling, however, who are our most-respected authors today? Even though Stephen King has written 55 novels, six non-fiction books and nearly 200 short stories, he has not been the recipient of any major awards (like a Pulitzer, for example), and is not generally regarded as an exceptional writer, though he may be creative nonetheless. His take on the paranormal, supernatural and science fiction aspects of modern novels have not received the level of respect as say, 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which were published in 1949 and 1932, respectively. And while Tom Clancy has written over 100 novels, mostly dealing with military affairs, he has not been held to the same degree as Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) or Michael Shaara's 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels.
Unfortunately, today we have probably not yet identified a celebrated author worthy of the acclaim that goes with being read in American classrooms for decades, even centuries--though the topics upon which one may write are today more numerous than perhaps any point in human history. This could be for any number of reasons, including relatively short attention spans that are not able to latch onto any one particular author (a pattern that is actually forcing many to turn away from classical authors), a lack of motivation to write something truly groundbreaking or, as Folkenflik said, people are more likely to enjoy reading about things that did not just happen, and therefore turn to historical or, at the very least, classic and pseudo-classic authors who may no longer be living. This is likely the reason why we still know the names Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, though we haven't found a need for such innovative investigative journalism--at least to the degree that takes down an American president--in our generation.
They were not the celebrity scandals that adorn the front page of every grocery store-checkout line tabloid today, but gigantic stories regarding sanitation and workers' rights. It was, in the words of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, a time when journalists "educated themselves about the social and economic inequalities rampant in the wake of teeming industrialization, so they educated the entire country."
"Collectively," wrote Goodwin in her 910-page masterpiece The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, "this generation of gifted writers ushered in a new mode of investigative reporting that provided the necessary conditions to make a genuine bully pulpit of the American presidency...and...its characteristic contribution was that of the socially responsible reporter-reformer."
At times when it truly matters, good reporting and good storytelling can change history.
To be honest, it is rather disheartening to not recognize truly innovative big-name authors and writers today, even though I am entirely in support of independent authors (such as my good friend Zachary Zinn), publishers, freelance writers and bloggers. I respect this as the way of the future, though it is unfortunate that we have not followed in the footsteps of our literary forefathers by creating something that can be read and interpreted in classrooms for subsequent generations.
Perhaps, however, I am looking too inward, and must wait to see what the future possesses. Perhaps books that are on new-release shelves today will be coined classics in years to come, though it requires patience.
A Media Blast From the Past - I posted the link above, but I'll do it here again. This is the actual story that inspired this entry, the NPR piece about the recent trend involving republication of old stories.
The Atlantic - The site for the trendy, informational and often controversial magazine, which features the aforementioned stories written by iconic authors.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism - It's a lengthy read, but one that is very important to understanding the far-reaching positive consequences of American journalism as a social force.
The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York - This is a book that I picked up at a book sale in Gettysburg this past summer, and it is very unique and enjoyable. It follows the Sun, "a fledgling newspaper" that "brought to New York the first accounts of remarkable lunar discoveries," many of which were true. Nonetheless, a series of six articles throughout the summer of 1835 forced New Yorkers to believe that there was life on the moon, enabling "a divided city on the cusp of greatness and a crew of writers, authors, editors, and charlatans [to stumble] on a new kind of journalism...that made America into a nation of newspaper readers." This is a fun read, and speaks to the impact of well-written fiction on a mass scale.