THE PAPER'S PAPERS by Richard F. Shepard


A Reporter's Journey Through the Archives of The New York Times
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 Shepard, who spent 45 years at the New York Times as a reporter and editor, clearly enjoyed this rummage through the paper's archival attic. Others, not dying of curiosity to read memos from publishers to editors concerning wedding announcements and obituaries, might not care to rummage with him. In fairness to Shepard's book, its heart clearly lies in more than 120 photographs and reproductions of other material from the Times's archives, dating back to the paper's birth in 1851-- materials that were not available for review. These range from a 1912 letter from publisher Adolph Ochs describing lunch at his home with President William Howard Taft (seating chart and luncheon menu included) to a 1942 memo from Ochs's son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, on the great debate over whether the paper should include a crossword puzzle. Imagining this missing material makes the book a more pleasant browse but does nothing to make it seem more vital or compelling. Shepard offers a voyeur's view of the inner workings of the newspaper and the ways it has evolved over the years. One can read, for instance, memos that circulated among Times executives discussing the merits of comics (no) or a bridge column (eventually, yes). All these decisions were influenced by powerful egos balanced by an equally powerful reverence for the Times as a grand institution not to be tampered with lightly. Shepard does touch briefly on such larger issues as the need to rethink foreign news coverage in the postCold War era. Yet a chapter on the Bay of Pigs coverage and the Pentagon Papers is shorter than the one devoted to society and style. In the end Shepard's book proves a cardinal rule of newspaper journalism: Most readers will find yesterday's issues useful primarily for the wrapping of dead fish.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8129-2453-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996