News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century

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Overview

LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT
"When screaming headlines turn out to be based on stories that don't support them, the tale of the boy who cried wolf gets new life. When the newspaper is filled with stupid features about celebrities at the expense of hard news, the reader feels patronized. In the process, the critical relationship of reader to newspaper is slowly undermined."...
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News Is a Verb

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Overview

LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT
"When screaming headlines turn out to be based on stories that don't support them, the tale of the boy who cried wolf gets new life. When the newspaper is filled with stupid features about celebrities at the expense of hard news, the reader feels patronized. In the process, the critical relationship of reader to newspaper is slowly undermined."
--from NEWS IS A VERB

NEWS IS A VERB
Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century

"With the usual honorable exceptions, newspapers are getting dumber. They are increasingly filled with sensation, rumor, press-agent flackery, and bloated trivialities at the expense of significant facts. The Lewinsky affair was just a magnified version of what has been going on for some time. Newspapers emphasize drama and conflict at the expense of analysis. They cover celebrities as if reporters were a bunch of waifs with their noses pressed enviously to the windows of the rich and famous. They are parochial, square, enslaved to the conventional pieties. The worst are becoming brainless printed junk food. All across the country, in large cities and small, even the better newspapers are predictable and boring. I once heard a movie director say of a certain screenwriter: 'He aspired to mediocrity, and he succeeded.' Many newspapers are succeeding in the same way."                        

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
YA--A veteran journalist takes a look at the state of the modern press in this insightful and highly personal essay. News is not about the craft of newspaper writing, but rather the crafting of today's papers. Hamill's thesis is that fatuous, celebrity-centered journalism is dumbing down America's newspapers, patronizing readers, and undermining the press's credibility. The author's ideas for correcting these problems and strengthening other aspects of the modern newspaper will interest YAs who are considering a career in journalism. Students of current events will also find intelligent analysis of a chain of issues that effect movie grosses and political races alike: Is the media's attention to half-truth, scandal, and celebrity due to wrongheaded editorial decisions or to an accurate understanding of the public's appetite for drivel? If a sports announcer's personal oddities are given A-1 coverage while stories of global importance are relegated to the back pages, will the end result be successful newspaper sales or a nation disinterested in issues central to its own survival? Hamill considers these issues and concludes that publishers must not succumb to "giving people what they want," but rather must make a commitment to quality of content. YAs will be inspired by his outspoken love of journalism, his conversational and candid style, and his thought-provoking discussion of many of today's hot topics.--Pamela Cooper-Smuzynski, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345425287
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/1/1998
  • Series: Library of Contemporary Thought Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 352,180
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Pete Hamill has been a newspaperman for almost four decades. Starting at the New York Post in 1960, he has worked at several newspapers as a reporter, rewriteman, war correspondent, and columnist. Most recently, he served as editor in chief of the New York Daily News. He has also written for almost all major American magazines. In addition to his journalism, he is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling Snow in August, two collections of short stories, two anthologies of his journalism, and the memoir A Drinking Life. He also has written many screenplays. Hamill is married to the Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki and is the father of two daughters. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Throughout his colorful career as a writer, New York City has been a constant backdrop and inspiration for Pete Hamill -- from his success at several New York newspapers and magazines to his look back at A Drinking Life to his latest sweeping novel about a man gifted with immortality in the city he calls home: Forever.

Born in Brooklyn in 1935 as the first of seven children to Irish immigrant parents, Hamill attended Catholic schools throughout his childhood. More in tune with the city streets than the schoolroom, he dropped out at 16 to labor in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheet metal worker, and from there signed up with the U.S. Navy, where he was able to eventually complete his high school education. The G.I. Bill of Rights helped him gain admission to Mexico City College in 1956-1957, where he was a student of art and design.

While Hamill fell in love with Mexico (and would eventually come to consider it his second home), his interest in design brought him back to New York to study at Pratt Institute. However, in 1960, he made the fateful career move that would change his life: taking a job as a beat reporter for The New York Post. Hamill's pavement-pounding work made him a crafty chronicler of city life -- from the grimy streets of the crime beat to the chaotic uprisings of the 1960s -- and he graduated to columnist. Soon after, he made the slightly scandalous move to the Post's rival paper, The New York Daily News. Perhaps one of Hamill's most intriguing achievements in New York journalism is the fact that he served as editor-in-chief of both papers -- the city's two most notoriously competitive dailies.

Hamill's nonfiction books have resonated with readers craving more than a few column inches. His 1994 memoir, A Drinking Life, was, as Publishers Weekly noted, "not a jeremiad condemning drink... but a thoughtful, funny, street-smart reflection on its consequences." Turning his attention to other lives, Hamill has also written tributes to idols Frank Sinatra (1998's Why Sinatra Matters) and Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1999's Diego Rivera).

Hamill has also enjoyed critical and commercial success as a fiction writer. His 1997 novel, Snow in August, was an instant New York Times bestseller. On the gritty coming-of-age story, the Times observed, "Mr. Hamill has told versions of this story many times, in fiction and journalism. But in his new novel...Mr. Hamill adds magic. Hamill is not a subtle writer, but his gift for sensual description and his tabloid muscularity fit this page turner of a fable."

2002's Forever brings Hamill's street smarts and near-encyclopedic knowledge of New York City together with his gift for spinning a story. Perhaps his most ambitious work yet, the novel traces the history of Manhattan through the eyes of a man who has watched it unfold for the better part of two centuries -- thanks to an otherworldly wish he is granted. It's likely Hamill's secret wish as well.

Good To Know

Since the 1950s, Hamill has had a keen interest in Mexico and considers it his home away from home. As a reporter, he covered the events in Tlatelolco in 1968, the Olympic Games that followed, and a major earthquake in 1985. For six months in 1986, he served as editor of The Mexico City News.

He is married to Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki and has two grown daughters -- one a poet, the other a photographer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York, and Cuernavaca, Mexico
    1. Date of Birth:
      1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      Mexico City College, 1956-1957; Pratt Institute
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

This is not an objective or neutral essay. The subject is so deeply entwined with my life that I can't write about it in a cold, detached manner. Quite simply, I love newspapers and the men and women who make them. Newspapers have given me a full, rich life. They have provided me with a ringside seat at some of the most extraordinary events in my time on the planet. They have been my university. They have helped feed, house,
and educate my children. I want them to go on and on and on.

The newspaper that gave me my life was the New York Post, as published by a remarkable, idiosyncratic woman named Dorothy Schiff and edited by a tough, smart, old-style newspaperman named Paul Sann. I
started there on June 1, 1960, working the night side as a reporter. The
Post was then, and is now, a tabloid. That blunt little noun has a pejorative quality these days, but "tabloid" really is a neutral word, describing the shape of the page. "Tabloid" can't, with any accuracy, describe the style, content, or intentions of
Newsday,  the National Enquirer,, the Rocky Mountain News, the New York Daily News, the Boston Herald, the Star, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, or the Globe. All are published in tabloid format. But the Star, the National Enquirer, and the Globe are supermarket weeklies, whose basic goal is to entertain their readers, usually with tales of celebs-in-trouble. The rest are dailies, engaged in the traditional effort to inform their readers about their city, their nation,
and the world. All tabloids are different, shaped by separate traditions and geographies. The daily newspapers that have endured--tabloid or broadsheet--are those that best serve the communities in which they are published. But the supermarket weeklies don't serve communities; they are national publications driven by an almost primitive populism. Like the mass-circulation Fleet Street tabloids that are their models, they are really about class. Their unsubtle message is as primitive as an ax:
Don't feel so bad about your life, lady, these rich and famous people are even more miserable than you are.

So there are tabloids, and there are tabloids. I'm proud to have spent most of my working life as a tabloid man at the Post, the
New York Daily News, and New York Newsday. At the
Post,  I served my apprenticeship--covering fires and murders,
prizefights and riots--and did so in the best of company. Reporters in those days were not as well educated as they are now. Some were degenerate gamblers. Some had left wives and children in distant towns,
or told husbands they were going for a bottle of milk and ended up back on night rewrite on a different coast. Some of them were itinerant boomers who worked brilliantly for six months and then got drunk, threw a typewriter out a window, and moved on. Some were tough veterans of the depression and World War II and were sour on the whole damned human race.
But all of them were serious about the craft. And oh, Lord--were they fun.

It was their pride that they could turn out a fine, tough, tight newspaper with a fifth of the staff of the New York Times, and do it with great style. Let the Times be the New York Philharmonic;
they were happy to play in the Basie band. They understood, and accepted,
the limitations placed upon them by the tabloid format. Because space was very tight, every word must count. The headlines must sparkle. The photographs must add to the story, not simply illustrate it. And every story must have a dramatic point. There was no room for detailed analysis of the collapse of manufacturing in New York; you had to find a factory that was closing and a proud man or woman who might never work again. You couldn't just report a fire; you had to tell us about the people whose baby pictures and wedding albums had gone up, literally, in smoke. You had to look for good guys and bad guys, whenever they existed,
and then save them from being cartoons with skepticism and doubt.
Sometimes they slopped over into sentimentality or its twin brother,
sensationalism, by expressing emotions they didn't feel. Most of the time, they were content to adopt a hard-boiled cynical manner, accompanied by a wink.

All of them were conscious of their limitations; they knew that they never once had turned out an absolutely perfect newspaper, because the newspaper was put out by human beings. But in their separate ways, they tried very hard never to write anything that would bring the newspaper shame. They would be appalled at the slovenly way the word "tabloid" is now used.
They didn't pay whores for stories. They didn't sniff around the private lives of politicians like agents from the vice squad. Even in large groups, on major stories, the photographers didn't behave like a writhing,
snarling, mindless centipede, all legs and Leicas, falling upon some poor witness like an instrument of punishment. Somehow, they found ways to get the story without behaving like thugs or louts.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Even more relevant in 2013...

    An enjoyable if depressing read which certsinly rekindled my interest in reading a newspaper everyday.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2000

    The Best In His Field

    There is no other journalist on the market with a voice as powerful as Pete Hamill. This is a book for EVERY journalist and any one interested in the fields of writing/media. These are the issues on all of our minds and here is the way to see another view. As, they say there are writers and then there is Pete Hamill

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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