MEDIA CIRCUS by Howard Kurtz


The Trouble with America's Newspapers
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 A gossipy, ad rem diagnosis of what ails US newspapers. Washington Post Media-reporter Kurtz concludes that broadsheets as well as tabloids have been losing credibility because they tend to focus on scandalous sleaze (Gennifer Flowers; William Kennedy Smith's rape trial; the more sensational aspects of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings) or marginal manipulators (Al Sharpton; Donald Trump) while--until overtaken by events--they all but ignore important stories like the collapse of thrift institutions and the root causes of the L.A. riots. At the same time, dailies have been squandering their natural advantages- -notably, an unrivaled ability to provide the public with in-depth context on TV's blur of sound bites. In-house woes ranging from ethical lapses (e.g., plagiarism) through noisy allegations of racial bias and sexism have further undermined an already shaky industry. Kurtz examines how labor strife as well as economic problems have expanded the number of single-paper towns, inducing many survivors to ape USA Today--which, he says, has been moving up-market with a less flashy format and more substantive content. Covered as well are the improved (i.e., more analytic) performances of print journalists during the 1992 presidential campaign (thanks in part to the candidates' communicating directly with the electorate via TV talk-shows); the Pentagon's humiliating defeat of the press corps during the Gulf War; the many ways in which government officials can seduce correspondents supposed to probe them; and the capacity of newspapers to compete for attention in a high-tech era arguably dominated by CNN, C-SPAN, MTV, or allied sources of instant gratification. A cautionary, wide-ranging critique that's both entertaining and informative. (For another inside-look at the decline of the American newspaper, see James D. Squires's Read All About It!, published in February)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8129-2022-8
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993