Haste Makes...?

The new media ethos prizes speed above all else. If you’ve got an idea, a fact, a reference, a rumor — any information of any potential value — you get it out as soon as possible. And if you don’t, you’ll be castigated for it. For example, here’s Jeff Jarvis on a Philly newspaper’s recent decision to withhold scoops from blogs for the print edition:

What the hell are they thinking in Philadelphia? Inquirer ME Mike Leary just sent a memo saying they are going to hold all but breaking news for the paper and even restrict bloggers from using their blogs to work on stories in progress.

Let me make this very clear to Inquirer ownership and management:

You are killing the paper. You might as well just burn the place down. You’re setting a match to it. This is insane. Even the slowest, most curmudgeonly, most backward in your dying, suffering industry would not be this stupid anymore.

This seems a tad bit overblown, but also fairly accurate. But here’s what I want to know: How does that approach square with the one taken by Bob Woodward and his publisher, summarized here by Leon Neyfakh in the New York Observer:

Simon & Schuster announced this morning that Bob Woodward’s new book—his fourth on the Bush Administration—will be called The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, and that The Washington Post will excerpt it on Sunday, Sept. 7, the day before it goes on sale. They’re printing almost a million copies of this thing, according to the announcement, in which Mr. Woodward’s editor, Alice Mayhew, is quoted as saying, rather boldly, that the book offers the most “authoritative and intimate account of presidential decision making since the Nixon tapes and the Pentagon Papers.”

Naturally, seeing as Mr. Woodward’s books are always full of electrifying little news breaks, The War Within is embargoed until the day of its release.

Woodward, of course, has spent a long time building a brand around carefully developed scoops and long-term reportage, but it seems to me that his success (and I presume that even if TWW doesn’t live up to the hype of its seven-figure print run, it will still be fairly successful in comparison to most politically themed books) suggests that maybe there is a model for embargoed news, for scoops delayed and information withheld. Maybe the book world and the daily journalism world are so separated that any comparison is useless; on the other hand, maybe it shows that, sometimes the rush to publication isn’t the only way, and that a little bit of strategic patience can pay off.