October 15, 2010

Miners overexposed; vultures may go hungry


Culture vultures

Culture vultures

It’s hard to blame any of the 33 Chilean miners just rescued from their 69-day entombment for wanting to cash in. Consider what Richard Villarroel, one of the miners, told the Washington Post after being rescued, “We were waiting for death…We were wasting away. We were so skinny. I lost 26 pounds. I was afraid of not meeting my baby, who is on the way. That was what I was most waiting for.”

They suffered admirably; that they managed to survive for as long as they did before being discovered is an inspiring story worth being told. The fact that they will all get paid lots of money for book deals, movie rights, and exclusive interviews is a mere formality. (Did anyone think after all the passengers and crew from the “Miracle on the Hudson” were safe and sound that Captain C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger wouldn’t cash in a year later and write a book?) It has a bit of an odor to it but the stench won’t knock you down.

It’s also expected that a great many of the ambulance chasers/”journalists” who descend on these sorts of ordeals go only because they smell a big pay day. But at least publicly they shroud their ambition, narcissism, and propensity to exploit in vague statements like “it was a story of a lifetime–I felt it was my duty to cover it” or “it was the most compelling human drama and it deserved a witness.” You know, something that sounds high-minded enough to overpower the average person’s sense of smell for such horse shit.

So it’s sort of refreshing that some of the vultures who would normally start circling about now are being so candid about their current dilemma: they’re worried they won’t make enough money off the miners to even bother.

A story in Crain’s New York Business yesterday highlighted the problem facing publishers who are considering some competing proposals currently making the rounds. Jonathan Franklin of the Guardian (who has at least been in Chile for 16 years and has some expertise) has already sold his book, 33 Men, Buried Alive: The Inside Story of the Trapped Chilean Miners, to British publisher Transworld. His book is landing in New York editors’ inboxes along with another competing proposal by Alexei Barrionuevo of the New York Times. But according to Crain’s, what might have been a foregone conclusion several years ago may not be so now:

The concern among publishers is that the public will get enough of the heart-stirring story from all of the news accounts and won’t have any need of a book.

“We’re wondering how much the immediate coverage will chew up the story,” said one editor who was considering 33 Men.

Perhaps these hungry agents and editors should go find another crisis that could actually use some exposure.