McGuire on Media

Two entertaining media novels for our times

In between episodes of chasing very active grandchildren this summer, I read several novels, but two stood out. Both of these novels provocatively shined lights on the media business, our tough times and the inherent romance of the news business.

I have always enjoyed mysteries and I love books with settings I can relate to easily. Usually though, I get very frustrated by books about newsrooms. I find most authors fall for stereotypes of newsrooms and the news business. Or worse, they carry a bitterness of personal experiences that makes their stories strained and unbelievable. Without naming names, some authors display so much cynicism about the news business you become certain how unhappy they were in their journalistic lives.

Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (for disclosure purposes, she is the spouse of a former Star Tribune staffer I worked with) and Black and White and Dead All Over by John Darnton brilliantly avoid those stereotypes. Kramer, a former producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, features a  television investigative reporter in her book.  Darnton, who worked for the New York Times for 40 years and won a Pulitzer, writes satirically about “The New York Globe.” Neither author paints idealistic or fantasy portraits of the newsroom culture. The word genuine applies to the portrayals of journalism and the news business in both books. Like all novels the characters are written very broadly and good and evil is far clearer than it is in real life. Still, it seems obvious to me that both authors love and respect the news business.

Literary criticism is not my gig, but I predict lovers of journalism and the business will enjoy both books immensely. They are both good books, good mysteries and good fun. Both authors must have come close to emptying their memory banks of quirky newsroom stories, but both authors keep the newsroom believable.  As I said in the opening paragraph both authors display the inherent romance of the news business without being romantic or sappy.

The reason I think these two books have value for this blog is that both authors reveal warts of the news business at this traumatic time in journalistic history at the same time they display genuine love and affection for the business. I was actually uplifted after reading both books.

That’s a tone I think the industry’s practitioners and its critics need to strike more often. I received a plaintive e-mail yesterday from an editor who is simply exhausted from fighting battles. Practically everybody I know still working in the business expresses similar sentiments. I know from personal experience that fighting those battles can seem incredibly lonely. Yet, I fought those battles in a much gentler, much more reasonable time. The isolation and sense of combat felt today in a declining industry makes my experiences pale. That’s why I try to offer hope and constructive observations about the business in this blog. I don’t critique because I hate journalism, but because I love it. 

When I read books like Stalking Susan and Black and White and Dead All Over I  certainly appreciate they are novels for escape. They can be something more though. They can be pleasant reminders that we are not insane for loving where journalism has been. Sure, we must respect where journalism is going and greet that future with enthusiasm. We can still celebrate the past without abandoning the present practitioners. The main characters of these two books are fun to root for and so is journalism.  

One Comment