Prison and Profits

It's a crazy time for local media heads. Two Chronicle scribes, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada (aka the BALCO tag team), are on the verge of doing time in federal prison, while one sorta-journalist, blogger, and sometime videographer Josh Wolf, is already vacationing at Club Fed across the bay in Dublin.

As we've mentioned before, the Chron guys won't tell prosecutors who leaked them secret grand jury info, and Wolf won't give up video he shot at a protest during which a cop got clobbered.

While going to jail sucks, there may be an upside for these free-speech casualties. The model is ex-New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail for refusing to utter the words “Scooter Libby” and emerged 85 days later clutching a book deal with Simon & Schuster worth a reported $1.2 million.

So what about Williams, Fainaru-Wada, and Wolf? We asked several literary agents if they thought the trio might be able reap similar financial rewards.

Wolf hasn't really done a hell of a lot of journalism — his media output to date consists largely of posting video clips to and blogging about his jailhouse blues — so his current status as a cause célèbre has undoubtedly elevated his value in the publishing world. For him, says John Michel, an agent with Howard Morhaim Literary Agency in New York, “It would certainly be easier to land a [book] deal” after going to jail. Michel, though, is skeptical about how far that might take Wolf: “That doesn't mean it'll necessarily sell. Publishers do a lot of foolish things. I'm not sure you can build 245 pages around his story.”

The Chron guys, of course, already have a book on the shelves, Game of Shadows, which has moved many copies and spent five weeks on the New York Times' best-seller list this spring, and their plight should only enhance those stats. “The saying that 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' is often the case,” says Jud Laghi at LJK Literary Management in New York. He figures that the travails of the investigative duo are likely “to get the book back in the spotlight again.”

Meanwhile, Michel thinks their possible jailing is great advertising for the book. The controversy, he says, “is absolutely going to bump up sales.” Maybe Williams and Fainaru-Wada will give a cut of the profits to the person (or persons) who passed them the grand jury transcripts.

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