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The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman Paperback – May 6, 2015
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All you have to do is read his memoir of 40 years as a desk editor on New York newspapers to understand why he is a legend in his own time and why what is missing from the world of communication is editors like Schwartz, who were the heart of good print journalism when it was still alive. The first hint is how easy great writing is to read. It is amazing how a combination of intelligence, education and experience with well-written sentences can transform the memoir of an old coot editor into a seductive page turner you cannot put down.
From the story of "Adler's hat" to the saga of "Elvis Mitchell" 377 pages later, Fine Print, the life of this old desk man, is pure delight. Not only will it make you miss writer/editors like Schwartz, it will make you miss the important institution of democracy to which he dedicated his marvelous life. And if you are fortunate enough to live where there is still a good newspaper, you will want to go on line and order a subscription.
I never would have thought that the story of journalism's changes from the mid-20th century to the present could be so enjoyable and filled with humor. Jack Schwartz's memoir, "The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman," tracks his long journalistic career, beginning in the late 1950s when he got his first job as a copy boy at The Daily Mirror. then one of 7 dailies in NY. "Like most of my fellow copy boys I was a college student by day, lackey by night." All that copy editing taught Schwartz how to turn a phrase, distill a situation, tell a story. For example, "What struck me right off at The Mirror was that the copy boys spent their spare time reading and the rewrite men spent their spare time drinking".
Schwartz's enviable memory and fluid writing combine to recreate the feel of a mid-century newsroom. Whether focusing on the clear hierarchy, the continual hazing, or the food runs for higher ups that provided a temporary escape for copy boys, Schwartz brings the scene to life.
Listen to Schwartz on mid-20th century copy editing: "The system was simple enough. We sat on a long wooden bench against a wall at the far end of the city room between the news desk and the banks of rewrite men. If a writer finished a piece of copy...he'd yell "Boy" and the copy boy on the far right,...would leap up, grab the copy from the writer, move it to the news desk strip the carbons and distribute the copies to the in baskets of the appropriate editors."
While still a student at City College and working full time at the Mirror, Schwartz took a second job at the NY Post. Once he graduated, he learned to drive (overnight!) to accept a full time reporter's job at the Long Island Press.
A short gig at the Herald Tribune in Paris sounds like a vacation, and contrasts with the sense of purpose, work ethic and culture of NYC newspapers.
Most of his long career at Newsday and the NY Times informs his experience and perspective as a self-described "mid level toiler" and reveals a great deal about the hierarchical structures at NY newspapers.and the hazing and abuse they inculcated.
Schwartz worked with typesetters long before computers defined how newspapers were laid out and produced, and describes the profound impact of computerization on the newspaper industry.
He helped create many the "specialist sections" of Newsday, and the now defining, similar sections of the NY Times.
Schwartz went back to edit NY Newsday's Book Review, in ??? where he really hit his stride. It's exciting to read about how Schwartz created a book review intended to challenge and trump the NY Times. His laser focus on finding the best reviewer for each book, on the ways that interviews added value...
Readers can't help wondering how different the landscape of NYC newspapers would have been had New York Newsday survived.
Jan Rosenberg, Long Island University Professor of Sociology , retired