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Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism Hardcover – February 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the forgotten titans in American journalism, Barney Kilgore is the subject of a new book by Tofel, a former assistant publisher of the Wall Street Journal and author of Sounding the Trumpet. A Midwesterner from Indiana, Kilgore emerged from smalltown America to rise through the ranks at the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the Great Depression. Through the war years of the 1940s into the Cold War era, he reshaped the publication's news focus, visuals, composition, circulation and advertising. He championed a unique style of journalism as its top executive, with keen instincts, intelligence and a progressive view, transforming the broadsheet into a first-class national business newspaper. Innovative and unyielding, Kilgore had one of his finest moments when he faced down General Motors in a controversial 1954 advertising spat, bolstering the newspaper's reputation. Tofel's excellent work on this pivotal figure in journalism is a significant addition to the seminal books on American media. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* From modest midwestern roots, fresh out of college in 1929, Kilgore went to work for the tiny, fledgling New York financial paper the Wall Street Journal. Plainspoken and analytical, Kilgore loved his job, writing his parents frequently with news of the financial world. Tofel draws on that correspondence and Kilgore’s work at the Journal to offer an engaging look at the long career of the man who helped shape the newspaper as it grew in stature and circulation. On the eve of the Great Depression, Kilgore pioneered a more reader-friendly financial journalism, educating the reader and himself as he developed a distinctive voice and created the “What’s News” feature, among others. During Roosevelt’s first two terms, Kilgore gained a reputation as the leading financial journalist in the nation, switching attention from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., where government policy on the economic recovery held sway. Tofel traces Kilgore’s career—columnist, Washington bureau chief, general manager—through World War II, the 1954 showdown that fortified the separation of editorial and advertising, and the creation of the highly innovative National Observer, which failed after Kilgore’s death at age 56 in 1965. The current financial crisis adds to the timeliness of this fascinating look at a pioneer in journalism. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312536747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312536749
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,184,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Allaer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The newspaper industry is facing dire times. Just a few weeks ago the venerable Rocky Mountain News printed its last edition. Here in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Post ceased business 12/31/07, and the Cincinnati Enquirer is only the shell it once was. As someone who has lived his entire life reading several newspapers a day, when I saw this book, I immediately grabbed it.

"Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and The Invention of Modern Journalism" (282 pages) brings a number of stories simoultaneously: the life of Barney Kilgore and how he grew the WSJ; a looks at the WSJ itself; and of course a look at newspapers in general in the 1930-1970 era. As a regular reader of the WSJ, I'll admit upfront I had never heard of Kilgore, but author Richard Tofel brings a detailed description of how important Kilgore was in building the WSJ from a local New York paper (circulation 33,000) to a national paper (circulation over a million), and also how Kilgore built the image and prestige of the paper. A great example of that comes when the author retells the paper's showdown with GM (the paper's largest advertizer) in 1954 when GM ceases advertizing after the paper scoops several stories on "bootlegging" sales and the upcoming 1955 models (GM winked first and resumed advertising). It reads like a novel, except it all really happened.

As is often the case in books like these, the most appealing and intruiging sections are the early years (for me anyway), as in: how Kilgore arose within the Dow Jones/WSJ organization, and how the WSJ operated in those early years.
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Format: Hardcover
People in developed nations rarely know much about who created the world around them. They don't know, for instance, who invented the automatic starter for car engines, the jet engine, television, the computer and a thousand other devices that make contemporary civilized life possible.

One of those inventions is the modern newspaper, as least as it was construed until a few years ago until newspapers attempted to become "infotainment" and pedagogical vehicles for the left-wing. These latter two factors may account for the increasing numbers of newspaper bankruptcies and generally falling circulations.

But until their recent corruption, newspapers were a vital part of, at least, American life. And one man in particular was responsible for much of their look, feel and philosophy as exemplified in what for decades was the only truly American national newspaper, The Wall St. Journal.

Bernard "Barney" Kilgore was the man.

Through his long career at the Journal, he rose from neophyte to head honcho and, along the way, created many of the features and styles we once took for granted in a quality newspaper.

Richard J. Tofel has undertaken to write the definitive biography of Kilgore and has succeeded, aided by a unique trove of letters between Kilgore and his father. These letters, covering almost 25 years, were unusually fulsome as Barney Kilgore described his actions to Tecumseh Kilgore, his father. It was a unique relationship and Tolfel rightly credits it as the basis of his work.

Kilgore evolved editorial policies and styles that largely enabled the Journal to grow from a small business newspaper to the only national newspaper of the time, with circulation passing the million and then the two million mark.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a solid book about the man central to the journalistic roots of the WSJ. Still, it would have worked much better as an extended feature article. The frustrating part was that I kept on waiting for Richard Tofel to deliver on his claim that Barney Kilgore stood behind the invention of modern journalism. What I got was that Kilgore encouraged anecdotal leads followed by the "nut graf" (article's subject) in the writing of articles. While surely an improvement over the "inverted pyramid," it hardly amounts to the superlatives placed upon Kilgore. I also struggled at times with Tofel's heavy writing style.
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Format: Hardcover
As a child, I never heard anything good about Kilgore. My father was the WSJ bureau chief in Washington DC for many years, and Kilgore was his boss. I do know that they despised each other, so much so that my father eventually left WSJ in year 1959 (after working at WSJ since 1945) because Kilgore and my father couldn't get along.

To be fair to Kilgore, however; I must concede that there are two sides to every story; and my father's side is the only side that I ever heard.

I also know information about Robert Novak, of an embarrassing personal nature, because my father gave Novak his start in journalism, when my father hired Novak at WSJ.
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