Michael Shapiro isn’t the sort of person I’d expect to circumvent the gatekeepers of traditional journalism. He’s a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, and he said he’s been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and Sports Illustrated — in other words, he seems to be on pretty good terms with those gatekeepers.
Yet Shapiro is launching a new journalism startup called The Big Roundtable. The reason? He said that there are a lot of untested assumptions in the journalism world. As a parallel, he pointed to book publishing, where he said it was long believed that “black people don’t buy books.” There was, in fact, “this whole sub rosa world” of independent black book stores, with its own bestsellers like Iceberg Slim‘s Pimp: The Story Of My Life. Yet traditional publishers had no idea that world existed until the mainstream success of writers like Terry McMillan in the 1990s.
Similarly, Shapiro isn’t criticizing anyone in particular, but he said that submitting to the shrinking number of magazines that support long-form journalism means subjecting yourself to the taste of individual editors. He said he’s often asked by students and colleagues whether the New Yorker or a similar magazine might be interested in a particular story: “The answer is probably not. This is not the era in which I came of age.”
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