Since going to work for the Roanoke Times I’ve become a collector of the various books the newspaper has published over the years.
Visit a Timesland used bookstore or antique mall on the right day and you can find books of Ben Beagle’s columns or commemorative reprints of the Roanoke Times’ front page over the years.
These days, the Roanoke Times is not likely to publish a book for sale.
Admittedly, I’ve been a little slow to jump on the eBook train. I still like haunting used bookstores and looking for bargain finds there, and although I love turning pages, I have little desire to read my favorite tomes on a Kindle, Nook or iPad.
But I recognize the technology’s potential. EBooks have removed much of the cost and materials associated with publishing books, making it easier for unknown authors to publish their work.
Newspapers have already started to jump on board. The Los Angeles Times published its first eBook last fall, and the New York Times reports that other publications – Politico, the New Yorker and Huffington Post, among others – are doing the same.
I think that one of the Times’ greatest assets is its archives. Librarian Belinda Harris looks after files on a variety of subjects and individuals, plus an archive that dates back to the 1890s. She uses that to collect and write each week’s “Looking Back” feature.
So I wonder: Is there an audience for eBooks collecting past material from the Roanoke Times?
You could collect stories recounting the rise and fall of Victory Stadium, the Flood of ‘85 or even the best collected columns of Dan Casey from 2008 to the present (though that would make for a very, very short book).
I’ve got plenty of other ideas for Roanoke Times eBooks I’d like to see:
–The rise of Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly.
– A collection of Beth Macy’s best stories and columns (which could be timed in conjunction with her upcoming book about John Bassett III and Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co.)
– An annual collection of Virginia Tech football reporting.
– The life and times of former Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor.
– The wild and wooliest true crime tales of Timesland.
Those ideas deal just with existing material and don’t even begin to scrape the surface of the potential for long-form writing on news that’s breaking now. ProPublica published a gripping story last month that also spawned a radio show (and subsequent podcast) on This American Life and also an eBook. It’s clearly a rare story that merits that treatment, but to my mind that ProPublica story and the way it was published indicates a brave new world for enterprise journalism.
Would you read Roanoke Times eBooks? If so, what collections would you like to see?
And by way of background, incidentally, here’s a short video with one of the past books published by The Roanoke Times. This is the newspaper’s 100th anniversary publication, which I borrowed from education reporter Courtney Cutright’s desk.