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The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril Paperback – February 4, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0375714153 ISBN-10: 0375714154 Edition: 1.5.2003
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There's good news and bad news. That's the inside scoop on the state of journalism from Washington Post editors Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser, whose book The News About the News sheds light on the changes wrought on the profession during the late 20th century. Using the clear, sharp prose emblematic of their craft, the authors examine the effects of changing business standards, the merger of news and entertainment, and--of course--the Internet explosion on how reporting is produced and consumed. Their verdict is that thoroughly researched, unbiased stories on vital topics not only provide a public service but also will sell papers and commercials. This is, of course, a welcome call to arms for reporters, editors, readers, and viewers to demand higher-quality work from news providers. It's hard to find flaws in their arguments; though they are mildly print-chauvinistic, they recognize the problems of their own medium just as much as radio, TV, and the Web. Readers of The News About the News will find themselves better able to evaluate journalism and, perhaps, to help create a demand for good news. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

For much of the 1980s and '90s, the news media were in a slump. Largely nonconsequential stories on celebrity weddings and car crashes made headlines. But on September 11, according to veteran Washington Post staffers Downie and Kaiser (executive and associate editor, respectively), things abruptly changed. "Hard news was back in the forefront," they say, and in this powerful and timely assessment of the present state of the news, the two present compelling evidence of the shaky ground newspapers and television news stand on today. By describing the profound impact the news can have (e.g., the Salt Lake Tribune's uncovering of the corruption in the bidding process for this winter's Olympic games), Downie and Kaiser prove that even in our celebrity-driven age, news does matter. They mainly focus on newspapers and television news in this succinct, unpreachy treatise, briefly skimming over the Internet and the rise of MSNBC.com and Salon.com, among other Web sites. Not surprisingly, the authors are biased toward newspapers for their unsensational, in-depth coverage of current affairs; they even suggest exercises for readers to compare television with print news. But they're not above admitting print's problems, either, namely, the increasing importance of enhancing shareholder value and the emphasis on the bottom line. Downie and Kaiser give a fairly brief yet meaningful history of newspapers and television news, juxtaposing the history with interviews with today's leading journalists, from NBC icon Tom Brokaw to former New York Times national editor Dean Baquet. This is an important, up-to-date study that should be required reading for journalism students and serious consumers of the news. Agent, Amanda Urban.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1.5.2003 edition (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375714154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375714153
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #989,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Crack Reviewer on March 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Leonard Downie and Robert Kaiser have written a book that describes what is wrong with American journalism. Those who have observed the media during the last 15 to 20 years have noted disturbing trends: 1. News that seems more like entertainment than real news; 2. A decline in the quality and quantity of real hard news stories in papers and t.v news.; 3. More stories about actors, sports figures, and celebrities; 4. News that seems more like a paid promotion by a corporation than news.
The authors tell us why this has occurred. Essentially, many newspapers, t.v. stations, and radio stations have been taken over by huge corporations like Gannett or AOL-Time Warner. These corporations are fixed upon obtaining a certain bottomline profit margin from each station year by year. To this end, they have limited space for hard news stories, laid off thousands of reporters, increased entertainment type features, and do little investigative reporting (which is expensive). They have also raised advertising rates and in some situations, involved themselves with inappropriate relationships with businesses who advertise in their mediums.
The authors point out through a number of examples, exactly why good journalism is important to a community. Solid news coverage on a state/national/international level has helped inform the American people of complex realities, enabling them to make sound decisions in the Representative Democracy in which we live. It has helped cracked scandals like Watergate wide open. It has helped states realize and rectify problems in their educational and social systems. It has explained much of the current problems with Muslims and Osama Bin Laden, so that we can understand what occurred on September 11, 2001 better.
The authors are wrong about some things.
Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on March 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Downie and Kaiser's book is an excellently written and entertaining look at how the print and electronic news media operate today. The trouble is that the thesis is old news, even if the examples with which the authors illustrate it aren't. The general message the authors want to get across is, alas, all too well known: too few mega-bucked families own too many newspapers and TV stations, marketing is increasingly the tail that wags the news and editorial dog, politicians manipulatively lie to reporters whom they've cultivated, advertizers buy "info-mercials" that the media masquerade as documentaries. This is stuff that's common lore. Where Downie and Kaiser shine is in illustrating these points with behind-the-scenes anecdotes pulled from their joint years at the "Washington Post." Especially interesting is their discussion of the "Post's" greatest investigative reporting victory, the series on cops who killed civilians in Washington DC., and the "Post's" dropping of the ball on Irangate. There's a certain degree of self-congratulation in the book--the two authors clearly think that the "Washington Post" is unrivaled in the editorial integrity department--but it's difficult to deny that a good case can be made for the kudos they give their paper. A bit more reflection on how media became the mess it is today, as well as how to fix it, would've strengthened the book. Still, one does get the gratifying sense that Downie and Kaiser are two old-school journalists who can be trusted. Unhappily, one also gets the sense that they're members of a dying breed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By CPUsports on July 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch T.V. news, you MUST read this book. Kaiser and Downie, veterans journalists from the Washington Post, explain why our newspapers are the key to a vibrant, free press, and are the springboard for all other (read: electronic) types of journalism.
More importantly, the authors enlighten the readers to the deleterious effects of corporate ownership on newspapers. In an effort to maintain historically high profit margins - and therefore, stockholder equity - corporate influence causes newspapers large and small to trim news space, cut staff, and conform to cookie cutter reporting strategies. This book is a real eye-opener, and more than a little scary.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Matt Cool on April 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book made me mad. It showed how truely twisted and money driven most of the newspaper and television companies are. It also made me mad because I can never watch network news on television again. I used to enjoy the 10:00 news. Stories of crime, killer bees, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were facinating, and I thought, valid uses of news time. Turns out these kinds of stories are meant to attract viewers, not inform them.
This book had to be written. As a young person, the only news my peers seem to be interested in is who is dating who in Hollywood. I understand that this information might be interesting, but it is not news! What I love about this book is that it is written by two people who know what they are talking about. The authors are both journalists for the Washington Post (one of the few newspapers that still has a high standard of news). They have both years of experience and numerous facts to back up their ideas.
More people should read this book to realize what to expect, and hopefully demand, from news.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By BP on April 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I pretty much assumed this book would do what many media-oriented books do: focus excessively on one side of the story. "The News About the News" doesn't do that, however. It gives an expert, reasonable assessment of the problems of today's media, including the negative effects of corporate ownership of news organizations and how such ownership weakens coverage.
There's plenty of optimism, however. I was surprised to learn how profitable news CAN be while remaining informative and balanced. The authors also assess how technology has weakened news coverage but how it also holds the potential to make covering world events easier and better.
The book also gives an engaging look at how a newspaper reporter identifies, researches, and puts together a story in a way that reads like a novel.
Overall, it's informative, smoothly written, and thought-provoking.
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