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Backstory : inside the business of news /

Main Author: Auletta, Ken.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Penguin Press, 2003
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Review by Choice Review

Most of the articles in this compendium were published in The New Yorker. Perhaps the US's leading journalism critic, Auletta offers what is essentially a tour of the challenges and problems facing the national news media industry. He includes pieces on the Los Angeles Times, the Tribune Company, Fox news, The New York Times, and much more; he updates each article, bringing them into the present. Many of the issues discussed echo those raised in Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser's The News about the News (CH, Jan'03). Although any New Yorker journalism critic runs the risk of comparison to A.J. Liebling (The Press, 1961, reissued since), Auletta's work is distinguished by his ability to profile media leaders. Readers receive the type of detail and insights about important editors, publishers, and broadcast news executives usually only known to coworkers and personal friends. The prose is so graceful that the reader is often oblivious to the depth of the analysis Auletta provides. Though not formal journalism scholarship (for one thing, it includes no bibliography), this book represents reporting at its highest level. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Academic and general libraries collecting literature on journalism, the news media, and mass media in society. R. A. Logan emeritus, University of Missouri--Columbia

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Auletta, author and respected media critic, frames his concerns about the state of modern American journalism, particularly the uneasy wedding of business interests and public service, with profiles of the major figures in the shifting landscape of journalism, including Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch. He starts with an exploration of the autocratic management style of Howell Raines, former executive editor at the New York Times, a style that contributed to the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal. Auletta goes on to examine synergies in journalism and corporate interests--from Disney to Time Warner--that have seen a CBS executive court Private Jessica Lynch with possible book and movie offers from affiliated groups. The collection includes profiles of Roger Ailes, former Republican media consultant, chairman and CEO of Fox News, and the inspiration behind its raucous right-leaning posture, and John McClandis Phillips, esteemed New York Times reporter, who viewed his job at the paper as a religious mission and who left a 21-year career to pursue evangelism. Auletta offers cogent analyses of the internal and external pressures reshaping American journalism. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2003 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Agent, Esther Newberg. (On sale Dec. 29) Forecast: Auletta regularly appears on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, The Charlie Rose Show and Nightline, and his numerous media connections should result in lots of coverage of this book. A five-city tour, blurbs from Walter Cronkite and Gay Talese, and national ads will help, too. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Media critic for The New Yorker, Auletta (World War 3.0) here offers another tale of the corrosive effects of power and wealth on a profession-in this case, print and broadcast journalism. Auletta delivers an unblinking view of the gray interface between the business of journalism and the ethics of reporting. He tells us that the business is fueled by synergy (i.e., the simultaneous ownership of broadcast, print, and entertainment outlets), set in motion by team culture, leverage, and other nebulous but au courant corporate clich?s. Meanwhile, the work of newsgathering and reporting is withering under this entrepreneurial onslaught. In a series of 11 recent essays, Auletta takes to task media behemoths such as Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom for flagrant disregard of all notions of journalistic integrity and seemingly unquenchable lust for an ever-greener bottom line. Given the ongoing debate over recent FCC regulations that eased restrictions concerning the scope of media ownership, Backstory is a timely release on an issue of national concern. And the writing is lively, too. Recommended for medium and larger public libraries, as well as academic collections. [This is the first offering from Penguin Press, former Random House president Ann Godoff's new imprint at Penguin Putnam.-Ed.]-Ari Sigal, MLS, Marion, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Protestations by Fox News and the White House notwithstanding, the "liberal media" is a fiction. And what's killing the news business, writes New Yorker media critic Auletta (Three Blind Mice, 1991, etc.), is that most cherished of capitalist emotions: lust for profit. Independent newsgathering is increasingly rare, as documented in this collection of New Yorker pieces (augmented by one for the American Journalism Review) over the last ten years. Witness, the author offers as one bit of evidence, the bid CBS made to score an interview (presumably exclusive) with celebrity POW Jessica Lynch: an executive wrote to her family to promise exposure on several programs. "But the executive didn't stop there," Auletta writes. "She noted that Viacom, the corporate parent, owned Paramount, which could make a movie of Lynch's heroics, and Simon & Schuster, which could offer a book, and MTV, a popular cable network, which might make her a cohost of a video show, and Infinity Broadcasting, the second largest radio network." Thus the ascendancy of "synergy," which increasingly lowers the long-protected wall between the editorial and business sides of news organizations and dumbs the news down to reach a mass audience. Auletta's pieces include a careful account of the rise and fall of New York Times editor Howell Raines, whose regime collapsed in the wake of scandals involving Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg (who, as if to illustrate that synergy has no shame, has signed on to write Lynch's memoir); a lively sketch of New York's "tabloid wars," whereby its lesser organs of news and opinion scrambled to dominate the market in "a bar fight that . . . is aimed at one overriding goal: to be the last man standing"; a look at that wall-lowering phenomenon as it played out, dramatically, at the Los Angeles Times under a new management that apparently valued news integrity less than double-digit returns; and a juicy dissection of the Fox Network, which has turned television news into an even louder and more ignorant version of all-talk radio. Eye-opening for news consumers, and useful for journalists hoping to understand the changes sweeping the profession. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.