Taylor Branch: His Book on MLK Attracts Notice of Time & Newsweek

Historians in the News

Two months ago, Time magazine jumped at the chance to make a deal with Simon & Schuster for the exclusive serial rights to "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68," the third volume in Taylor Branch's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the civil rights movement that is to come out tomorrow.

"I moved quickly on it because I think it's a terrific book, it's long awaited, it's very dramatic," said Stephen J. Koepp, the deputy managing editor at Time.

Time, which is owned by Time Warner, put together a big package for its Jan. 9 issue, including a cover photograph of Dr. King, an eight-page excerpt from the book, exclusive photos and an online interview with Mr. Branch. The issue went online on Sunday, Jan. 1, and landed on newsstands a day later.

But the editors at Time got a rude surprise when they looked online that same Sunday morning and saw that Newsweek's issue included a long essay about Dr. King and Mr. Branch's book written by Jonathan Alter, one of Newsweek's senior editors and columnists.

While the book was not embargoed before release, it had been sent out to many media outlets for review, and Newsweek had put in a bid. To Mr. Koepp, Newsweek's piece smacked of dirty pool.

"I knew that other people had access to it. There's a kind of an honor system that if you've read a book for serial rights and you're not going to buy them, you don't go and do the book before it's out, and we observe that," he said. "Obviously, not everybody else does."

Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post Company, said that there was nothing sneaky about publishing Mr. Alter's essay. The publication of the book is a "big, literary historical event" and Mr. Alter had a unique perspective to offer, said Mr. Meacham.

Read entire article at NYT

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