The former executive editor of the New York Times examines how and why American journalism has changed drastically in the past decade and what those changes mean for an informed citizenry.
Better than many in her business, Abramson (The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, 2011, etc.) understands the roiling craft of journalism from the inside. Refreshingly, she writes candidly about her own complicated role in the tsunami of change washing over the industry. In 1979, prominent journalist David Halberstam published The Powers That Be, which looked at a then-turning point in American news media, specifically as related to the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CBS News, and Time Inc. Abramson notes that Halberstam’s book influenced her to choose journalism as a career, and now she has adopted Halberstam’s structure to drive her latest work. To illuminate the current big picture, the author focuses on four news outlets: the New York Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vice Media. She examines these contemporary news organizations at three different intervals since the financial meltdown of 2008, and the fifth presence looming over the narrative is Facebook—and its billions of users. As Abramson delves into the Washington Post, one of the surprising positive elements (in a sea of negatives) is the ownership of Jeff Bezos, whose substantial cash infusions have brought growth, quality, and hope to the newsroom. Regarding her beloved New York Times, Abramson offers a cautionary tale, but she understands that the newspaper, in print and online, still sets the standard of quality in many ways. As for BuzzFeed’s transformation from a lighthearted digital playground to a serious news presence, the author seems impressed. Vice, on the other hand, comes in for harsher treatment, mostly due to founder Shane Smith’s refusal to truly understand news and his oversight of a misogynistic culture. The author also deftly weaves in important information about Breitbart, the Drudge Report, and other relevant outlets.
A highly readable combination of significant topic, deep reporting, endlessly fascinating anecdotes, and vivid writing.