Reading Books, Taking Names

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In the past three days, I’ve traveled back and forth from Thessaloniki’s International Book Fair three times (and to my own embarrassment, taken five cabs – next week I’ll conquer the bus) in order to cover how the literary culture and publishing industry are being affected by Greece’s economic crisis. [Which everyone just refers to as “the crisis.”]

I was hard pressed to convince my editor, the ever-headstrong Carlene Hempel, that this story was worth covering. I originally pitched the book fair as a fun event to attend and maybe take notes on, which wouldn’t have met the global relevance standards of our publication. Fortunately, I’m not the only journalism student in our group who loves books. Shocker. Olivia Arnold was the first to suggest that there was an economic angle to this story, since several of Greece’s larger bookstores have shut down in the past couple of years.

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Aerial view of the book fair, which is being held all weekend at HELEXPO, a local exhibition locale.

Our first trip to the fair on Thursday confirmed a couple of things: a) publishers are struggling in a troubled industry, and b) despite that, they are so passionate about what they do that they couldn’t imagine ever leaving the literary field. With a few statistics and an interview with a literary expert or two, we figured we were in business. Carlene still wasn’t convinced.

Olivia went to work on another story, but not before publishing a great blog post that describes some of the problems we encountered. When I pitched the story again the next day, it was again rejected. Bolstered by the email response I’d received from the book fair’s press agent, I decided to take yet another cab back to the fair on Friday to see if I could learn more.

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Display at the booth of Petros Bostis Publications, one of hundreds of exhibitioners who attended the fair.

One of the coolest things about being a reporter is that sometimes you come upon a person who makes your job way easier. In this case, that person was Socrates Kabouropoulos, who is a book policy consultant at the Greek Ministry for Culture and one of the founders of Greece’s National Book Centre, which was shut down several years ago due to government budget cuts.

After catching the end of a panel about books and the economic crisis – but not understanding a word they were saying, since it was in Greek; surprisingly, my two hours of Greek language lessons and weeklong Duolingo binge haven’t taken me far enough to understand local intellectuals – I went up to Kabouropoulos and asked if he had a minute to talk about my story.

Kabouropoulos not only spent an hour answering my questions and providing some important statistics, he also introduced me to several of his colleagues who I interviewed as well. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but by the time I got back, I was exhausted, excited and ready to prove Carlene wrong.

The breathless and harried re-pitch I made to Carlene immediately upon my return from the fair did the trick. The only problem was that I had forgotten to take photos. Fortunately, Suma Hussien came to my rescue, and we spent most of this morning conducting more interviews and chasing down past interviewees to take portraits.

Now comes the laborious, frustrating, and arguably most exciting part: typing up all of my notes and piecing the article together by tomorrow night. Here we go!

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Author: gschanker

I'm an aspiring science writer studying journalism and biology at Northeastern University and making my third - maybe fourth? - attempt at blogging.

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