From Publishers Weekly
Like Auletta's earlier The Highwaymen, this is a collection of the author's work as media correspondent for the New Yorker, but the focus has shifted away from the individual toward the institutional. The book starts with a 2002 profile of then New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, depicting his attempts to redefine the paper's approach to journalism and foreshadowing his departure in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal. Because of Raines's notoriety, it's an obvious choice to lead off with, but that decision affects the meta-narrative running through the book's first half. A string of articles dealing with newspapers around the country (including a look at New York's battling tabloids that didn't make it into the New Yorker because it wasn't "colorful" enough) examines the tension between editorial and business concerns, culminating in a 1993 look at the Times with open speculation about who would succeed the person who held the job before Raines and what it might mean for the newsroom. Alas, the moving profile of former Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips, who abandoned a promising career in journalism to devote himself to Christian evangelism, seems out of place amid the corporate chronicles. Yet its significance becomes clearer as subsequent pieces emphasize the growing lack of humility among contemporary journalists. Two final stories look at media startups that failed (Inside.com) and succeeded (Fox News), the latter bringing us up-to-date with the network's coverage of the war in Iraq. By putting these articles together, Auletta provides a valuable perspective on how the pressures of business have affected how we read and watch the news.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Auletta, whose previous books include Greed and Glory on Wall Street
and World War 3.0
, is concerned about how the publishing industry affects the practice of journalism, in theory not beholden to profits and losses. Most critics agree that Backstory
is a provocative if uneven collection that shows a serious understanding of the trade. Auletta's best pieces examine controversial figures such as Raines and Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. His less successful ones delve into the grisly (and possibly soporific) details of the business and meander off into unrelated topics. (One interesting but irrelevant article features a reporter who abandoned journalism for religion.) Still, this is Journalism 101 straight from the horse's mouth, with a small (very
small) silver lining: if you become a journalist, you might also become famous.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.