Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made headlines this week, announcing his purchase of The Washington Post. The entrance of this online innovator into the world of traditional print news is creating a lot of buzz among journalists. Can Bezos reinvigorate what many see as a dying medium? Can the negative impacts of the Internet’s growth, changing reading habits and declining ad revenues be reversed? I can’t answer these questions, but I can recommend a few books to aid and entertain you as you ponder newspaper journalism’s future.
Mention a newspaper in decline, and I immediately think of Tom Rachman’s moving and witty novel “The Imperfectionists.” The author builds a complex picture of an English-language newspaper in Rome by writing detailed vignettes about various characters associated with the failing paper. Rachman convincingly occupies the head of each person, exposing a huge range of human emotion and struggle, all the while creating a newsroom so vivid that you can feel the competitive tension among coworkers and hear the clicking of their keyboards.
“Attatchments” by Rainbow Rowell also avoids a straightforward narrative, but instead of vignettes, she does her storytelling via email messages exchanged between newsroom pals Beth and Jennifer in this light and upbeat book. Lincoln, the company’s Internet security officer, is supposed to report on people misusing company email. Instead, through reading their (unrealistically lengthy but nevertheless entertaining) missives, he ends up completely involved in the personal lives of these women and head-over-heels for the unlucky-in-love Beth.
For a realistic portrayal of the current state of news media and what might be done to save journalism, read Pulitzer Prize-winner Jack Fuller’s “What is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism.” Fuller, a former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, turns to neuroscience and an analysis of our current state of information overload to analyze why traditional journalism is failing. Fuller offers concrete suggestions and methods journalists could use to adapt to this new environment while still upholding ethical standards and being true to their mission of providing the information necessary to a functioning democracy.
Finally, a kind of journalism that I enjoy more than any other falls under the heading of creative nonfiction, what magazine editor Leo Gutkind calls, “true stories, well told.” Gutkind’s primer “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between” defines the genre, outlines its ethical code and shares techniques and tools for writing in this style. If you simply want to read some outstanding writing, pick up one of the “Best Creative Nonfiction” collections Gutkind has edited.