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Backstory: Inside the Business of News Paperback – December 28, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
However, Auletta's primary objective is to answer questions such as these:
1. What is the proper role of the news media?
2. How has that role changed during the last decade? Why?
3. What are the nature and extent of the impact of business considerations on the selection, articulation, and provision of news?
Auletta's thinking and writing have exceptional rigor, focus, and clarity. Yes, we learn a great deal about the individuals and organizations on which he focuses in this volume but its much greater value (to me) is derived from his thoughtful and eloquent responses to the questions posed earlier.
Backstory does have the ironic virtue of freezing for all time some of the ephemeral visions of the brief dot-com era. The chapter on Inside.com, where all too much good money was chasing all too many bad ideas, is worth the book's cover price. The media and business worlds have moved on since then, for better and for worse, but one can occasionally find some pleasure in recalling the "next big thing" as perceived in the year 2000.
Media has been and is in a state of flux if not outright crisis since the late '90s, and though Auletta may not have a crystal ball, he is better than most at reading a map.