Instant Messengers

Badb4ed6-eb03-11e0-ac18-00144feab49a John Gapper in the FT (registration required):

Yasmine El Rashidi’s first-hand account of the Egyptian revolution, The Battle for Egypt, which drew on her reporting for the New York Review of Books, was published by Random House as an ebook in May, four months after the uprising started. Among its competitors was Tweets from Tahrir, a collection of short observations on Twitter by witnesses to the revolution. It was released in April by OR Books, which specialises in rapid publication of current events titles in electronic and print-on-demand form. OR has also produced books on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Gaza flotilla.

This evolution raises big questions about the trade-off between immediacy and accuracy – or at least perspective. The historian sits down long after the events have occurred with no need to please or flatter the participants to gain access, since most are dead, and the freedom to study a wide variety of sources. A journalist working at high speed has only what he or she witnesses and the details that others – some with an agenda – choose to divulge.

“None of us has the right perspective, given how quickly these events unfolded, and we won’t know how to think about them for 30 years,” says Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times journalist and author of Too Big To Fail (2009), which reconstructed the climactic events of the 2008 financial crisis in New York and Washington. “If you try to write a great analytical book now, you will either be wrong or lucky.”