Hold the Press: The Inside Story on Newspapers

Article excerpt

Hamilton, John Maxwell, & Krimsky, George A. (1997). Hold the Press: the Inside Story on Newspapers. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press. 208 pp. paperback, $11.95.

If there isn't a journalism course out there called "The newspaper: A reader's guide," there ought to be. And if that course is waiting for the ideal textbook, veteran reporters Hamilton and Krimsky have supplied it. Hold the Press: The Inside Story on Newspapers, fulfills its droll title - and then some - with the kind of insights, breadth, freshness and wit that can turn required reading into something like recreation. Clearly, the book is aimed less at experienced, well informed newspaper readers than at those who skim the printed news superficially or give little critical thought to what they read. Does that disqualify Hold the Press as a college-level text? Not unless your average student just entering journalism is a lot more press-savvy than the kind typically taught by this reviewer.

Besides, there's nothing cursory or shallow in this penetration of the newspaper culture and what makes it run. For one thing the authors have been there -- Hamilton as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, Krimsky as a longtime AP correspondent covering Russia and the Middle East. (Hamilton now heads the journalism school at Louisiana State; Krimsky now works as an independent media consultant.) For another thing they've supplemented their considerable personal knowledge by drawing on scores of credible published sources, cited in an appendix that's as readable as the book as a whole.

One of their achievements is to resist giving simplistic answers to complex questions. In their final chapter they tackle the Big Question-whether newspapers of quality can survive as such in the face of massive corporate dominance, competing technologies, trivialized news values, falling readership and growing illiteracy. The authors don't pull punches. Carefully, omitting none of the dreary signs or predictions, they lay out the reasons why the pessimistic newspaper devotee (or the optimistic media competitor) might view newsprint journalism as a terminal case. But just as carefully, citing counter statistics, they support their argument that newspapers will continue to play a vital role in American life - that is, "if they protect the most important part of their franchise: reliable, timely, courageous, relevant, comprehensive news about current affairs. …

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