Though ex-N. Y. Times reporter White seems to do all he can to ruin his own first novel (chiefly through excess sentimentality and self-righteousness), the built-in appeal here--the triple lure of newspapers, harbors, and shipwreck--will probably survive for many readers. White's narrator-hero is 24-year-old Henry Williams, a fledgling reporter at the N.Y. Globe, ""the greatest newspaper in the world""--a totally undisguised Times. And soon Henry becomes the eager protÃ‰gÃ‰ of 62-year-old Frank Curran, ""the last man on the waterfront beat in the city of New York,"" who gives him an infectious N.Y. harbor apprenticeship in the lore of docks, longshoremen, tugs, and liners. Big changes are coming at the Globe, however: a phasing out of nitty-gritty reportage, a phasing in of trendy lifestyle sections. ""From now on, recipes would be as important as Washington""--and Henry watches old-time reporters cry, crack up, or quit as, one by one, they receive the much-dreaded assignments to ""Passtimes"" or ""Verve"" instead of police-blotters. . . or shipping. So Henry prepares to fight off the extinction of harbor reporting--especially when a major story comes his way: the mysterious oil-spill collision of a tanker and a freighter off Easthampton. But it's uphill all the way, as a hostile City Editor takes him off the story (just as he's getting to the bottom of it) and officially exterminates Shipping News by assigning both Frank (who grabs early retirement) and then Henry to ""Verve."" (""You're going to be doing an interview series. . . about men and how they dress. . . ."") And, after much angst, with support from girlfriend Flo, Henry quits, of course, continuing the collision inquiry on his own, nailing down evidence of a covered-up defect in the tanker's steering mechanism. . . . White has lots of surefire material here: the on-the-run story-chasing on land and sea; the ripe, authentic city-room confrontations and camaraderie; the overdone but nonetheless devastating reporter's-eye satire of the lifestyle trend in newspapers. But the pace is uneven (the collision sleuthing bunches up), and, more crucially, Henry's relentless announcements of sea-fever and last-of-the-line idealism (""my heart belonged out there with the raw wind and the hooting ships"") only undercut themes that need no such syrupy, self-congratulatory underlining. Still, there's lots of anger and charm and salt air here all the same--enough, surely, to rankle the powers-that-be over at the ""New"" New York Times and enough to divert readers with a weakness for the inside dope on scoops and/or ships.