Tag Archives: newspapers

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Throughout this peculiar novel, I found myself wondering “What’s the point?” When I finished reading it, I realized that question was the point.

A former reporter in Paris for the International Herald Tribune, Tom Rachman created a thinly disguised analog of that paper and placed it in Rome staffed exclusively by American ex-pats. However, I suspect that the publisher, editors, and staff of the IHT would take umbrage at the uniform pattern of neuroses, inadequacies, and generally annoying behavior of the characters in The Imperfectionists. I wonder if his former colleagues are still speaking to Rachman.

“The paper,” unnamed in the novel, is founded in the 1950s by a wealthy industrialist who hires his lover and her husband, and moves with them to Rome to run the paper, leaving his family behind in Atlanta. The whole gambit is suspicious from the start, and of course it is: nobody in The Imperfectionists seems to possess admirable motives even in the best of times.

This book, which is labeled a novel and seems to be accepted as such by most reviewers, is essentially a string of short stories about the people connected to the paper and, in many cases, to one another. It’s also a colorful picture of the declining fortunes of the newspaper industry over the past half-century, and that, to me, is its greatest strength.

English eccentrics have nothing on the characters in The Imperfectionists. From the young latter-day publisher who talks only to his dog, to the lowly staffer whose only ambition in life is to loaf on the job, to the impossibly incompetent would-be stringer in Cairo, these people are hard to take. From time to time I wondered whether this was all supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.

ISBN-10: 0385343663

ISBN-13: 978-0385343664

ASIN: B0036S49GE

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Filed under Contemporary Themes, Trade Fiction

Losing the News, by Alex S. Jones

1@@@ (3 out of 5)

The subtitle of this impassioned essay — ” The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy” — tells half the story, one that’s familiar to any alert reader of today’s major newspapers. The other half of the story, equally familiar, is about how the Internet is undermining the newspaper industry and, in the process, steadily replacing the world as we know it with a frighteningly unknown future.

Alex Jones, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, comes to these themes honestly as the scion of a small-town Tennessee newspaper family. It’s no wonder he feels threatened.

In all fairness, there is considerable reason for apprehension over the decline of America’s major newspapers. Reflecting shrunken profits, repeated staff layoffs, closed news bureaus, and greater reliance on syndicated material, the nation’s once-fat dailies are slimming down at a terrifying pace. In place of the papers’ often earnest efforts at “objectivity,” we are increasingly basing our views on the unedited diatribes to be found on the likes of Fox “News” and the daily blogosphere. The perils for democracy in America are obvious. For example, could the so-called “Tea Party” have thrived in a world largely dependent on newspapers for its information? Or is that sad testament to the profound ignorance of the American people a product of Fox News, talk radio, and organized Internet rumor-mongering? You won’t be surprised to learn that there is no question in my mind that, despite its familiarity to the 19th-Century No-Nothing movement, I’m convinced the Tea Party is an artifact of the channels through which we now receive so much of our political information.

Jones writes well, and my harsh criticism may not be entirely deserved. However, it comes from my nagging feeling as I read this book that its underlying theme is nostalgia, a craving for the day when so much of the news that appeared in the nation’s dailies and on the air originated in the early edition of the Old Gray Lady, The New York Times. Those days are fast receding into history, and as Jones himself writes, there’s not much anyone can do about it other than “Adapt or Die.”

ISBN-10: 0195181239

ISBN-13: 978-0195181234

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Filed under Business, Nonfiction