It’s become a tradition that, the day after the Youth Media awards are announced at ALA’s midwinter meeting, the Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners, along with an ALA representative, are interviewed live on the Today Show, at NBC’s studios in New York City. But this past Tuesday, those hoping to catch the first nationally televised interviews with Clare Vanderpool and Erin Stead were disappointed. For the first time in 11 years, there was no special coverage featuring the Newbery and Caldecott Medalists.
With the national television news outlets providing wall-to-wall media coverage since Saturday of the tragedy in Tucson, it’s not surprising that two children’s book award winners would be overlooked during a week of breaking news. But, to some who tuned into the Today Show on Tuesday morning expecting to see the Newbery and Caldecott Medalists, insult seemed added to injury. The program did indeed take a break from its coverage of the shootings during the second hour to interview an author. But it was an author who's not likely to win a prestigious literary award any time soon: Nicole Polizzi, better known to the world as Snooki, the Jersey Shore star more famous for her trash talk and wild partying rather than her literary chops.
The eight-minute interview in no way could be mistaken for an interview with a typical author, with host Matt Lauer asking Polizzi such questions as whether she actually wrote the book herself, and the meanings of some of the slang words used in the text, such as “weenis” (part of elbow) and badonk” (a large posterior).
What happened? Did—as the January 12 headline on Monica Edinger’s blog post on the Huffington Post suggested—Snooki bump this year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners from the Today Show’s roster?
In response to the growing number of bloggers and Twitterers posting complaints and asking questions on Wednesday, ALA/YALSA communications specialist Stephanie Kuenn posted a statement Wednesday evening on the ALA’s YALSA blog, disclosing the ALA had pitched a segment featuring the Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners, together with YALSA president Sarah Debraski, and that they’d been turned down, because of a “lack of interest and scheduling problems.”
For their part, Megan Kopf, a Today Show spokesperson, explained that a segment could not be scheduled this year, because “the show was booked the entire week.”
In what perhaps was a subconscious effort to soothe the ruffled feathers of publishers and readers who might be annoyed with the Today Show’s passing up the Newbery and Caldecott Medalists but booking Snooki for that day, Kopf added that the show “does more book segments in a given year than any other television show,” and “supports the publishing industry with initiatives like Al’s Book Club for Kids and Read for the Record.”
Reaction to Today’s decision is mixed among book publishing industry publicists. One publicist, who wished to remain anonymous, told PW, “It makes me sick as a children’s book person, that the Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners segment was scrapped, and Snooki got on [instead]. But as a publicist, I understand — Snooki equals ratings.” Another pointed out, “The media love to write that people aren’t reading any more, but when they overlook Newbery and Caldecott winners and interview Snooki, what do they expect?”
It’s traditional that Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners travel to New York City immediately after the ALA’s announcement for media interviews and publisher celebrations; this year’s two winners were no exception. Vanderpool flew into New York City from her home in Wichita, Kans., and Stead from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich.; both expected to drop by the Today Show’s studios Tuesday morning.
“We were particularly anxious to make the travel arrangements because of the pending storm,” explained Liz Hartman, executive director of publicity and institutional marketing at Macmillan Children’s Publishing, who coordinated Stead's impromptu flight Monday. Although Stead didn’t get to be interviewed live on national television as her publisher and she had anticipated, Hartman said, “It all worked out great. “We had a special lunch for her, with a Champagne toast. And Erin did a lot of phone interviews.”