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News is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the 20th Century (Library of Contemporary Thought)


News is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the 20th Century (Library of Contemporary Thought) Cover




This is not an objective or neutral essay. The subject is so deeply

entwined with my life that I can't write about it in a cold, detached

manner. Quite simply, I love newspapers and the men and women who make

them. Newspapers have given me a full, rich life. They have provided me

with a ringside seat at some of the most extraordinary events in my time

on the planet. They have been my university. They have helped feed, house,

and educate my children. I want them to go on and on and on.

The newspaper that gave me my life was the New York Post, as

published by a remarkable, idiosyncratic woman named Dorothy Schiff and

edited by a tough, smart, old-style newspaperman named Paul Sann. I

started there on June 1, 1960, working the night side as a reporter. The

Post was then, and is now, a tabloid. That blunt little noun

has a pejorative quality these days, but "tabloid" really is a neutral

word, describing the shape of the page. "Tabloid" can't, with any

accuracy, describe the style, content, or intentions of

Newsday,  the National Enquirer,, the Rocky Mountain News, the New York Daily News, the Boston Herald, the Star, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, or the Globe. All are published in tabloid format. But the Star, the National Enquirer, and the Globe are supermarket weeklies, whose basic goal is to entertain their readers, usually with tales of celebs-in-trouble. The rest are dailies, engaged in the

traditional effort to inform their readers about their city, their nation,

and the world. All tabloids are different, shaped by separate traditions

and geographies. The daily newspapers that have endured--tabloid or

broadsheet--are those that best serve the communities in which they are

published. But the supermarket weeklies don't serve communities; they are

national publications driven by an almost primitive populism. Like the

mass-circulation Fleet Street tabloids that are their models, they are

really about class. Their unsubtle message is as primitive as an ax:

Don't feel so bad about your life, lady, these rich and famous people are

even more miserable than you are.

So there are tabloids, and there are tabloids. I'm proud to have spent

most of my working life as a tabloid man at the Post, the

New York Daily News, and New York Newsday. At the

Post,  I served my apprenticeship--covering fires and murders,

prizefights and riots--and did so in the best of company. Reporters in

those days were not as well educated as they are now. Some were

degenerate gamblers. Some had left wives and children in distant towns,

or told husbands they were going for a bottle of milk and ended up back on

night rewrite on a different coast. Some of them were itinerant boomers

who worked brilliantly for six months and then got drunk, threw a

typewriter out a window, and moved on. Some were tough veterans of the

depression and World War II and were sour on the whole damned human race.

But all of them were serious about the craft. And oh, Lord--were they fun.

It was their pride that they could turn out a fine, tough, tight newspaper

with a fifth of the staff of the New York Times, and do it

with great style. Let the Times be the New York Philharmonic;

they were happy to play in the Basie band. They understood, and accepted,

the limitations placed upon them by the tabloid format. Because space was

very tight, every word must count. The headlines must sparkle. The

photographs must add to the story, not simply illustrate it. And every

story must have a dramatic point. There was no room for

detailed analysis of the collapse of manufacturing in New York; you had to

find a factory that was closing and a proud man or woman who might never

work again. You couldn't just report a fire; you had to tell us about the

people whose baby pictures and wedding albums had gone up, literally, in

smoke. You had to look for good guys and bad guys, whenever they existed,

and then save them from being cartoons with skepticism and doubt.

Sometimes they slopped over into sentimentality or its twin brother,

sensationalism, by expressing emotions they didn't feel. Most of the

time, they were content to adopt a hard-boiled cynical manner, accompanied by a


All of them were conscious of their limitations; they knew that they never

once had turned out an absolutely perfect newspaper, because the newspaper

was put out by human beings. But in their separate ways, they tried very

hard never to write anything that would bring the newspaper shame. They

would be appalled at the slovenly way the word "tabloid" is now used.

They didn't pay whores for stories. They didn't sniff around the private

lives of politicians like agents from the vice squad. Even in large

groups, on major stories, the photographers didn't behave like a writhing,

snarling, mindless centipede, all legs and Leicas, falling upon some poor

witness like an instrument of punishment. Somehow, they found ways to get

the story without behaving like thugs or louts.

Product Details

Hamill, Pete
Ballantine Books
New York :
United states
Mass media
Civil Rights
Journalism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Mass Media - General
Media Studies
Journalism -- United States -- History.
Linguistics - General
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Library of Contemporary Thought
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.40x5.48x.30 in. .34 lbs.
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Linguistics » General
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » Media

News is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the 20th Century (Library of Contemporary Thought) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 112 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345425287 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The newest title in The Library of Contemporary Thought series, "News Is a Verb" casts a critical--and hopeful--eye on the state of modern journalism. NPR sponsorship.
"Synopsis" by , The Library of Contemporary Thought is a groundbreaking series that tackles today's most provocative, fascinating, relevant issues. Original and daring, creative and important, these respected voices on matters political, social, economic, and cultural will enlighten, comfort, enrage, and entertain.

Each book is long enough to get to the heart of the subject, short enough to read in one sitting. Some are think pieces. Some are research oriented. Some are journalistic in nature. The form is wide open, but the aim is the same: to say things that need saying. Appearing on a monthly basis, the titles in The Library of Contemporary Thought will excite anyone interested in the most pressing issues of the day.

No one knows the business of journalism as well as Pete Hamill. He has been one of New York's top newspapermen for almost four decades at the city's two remaining tabloids, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. News is a Verb" turns a critical — and hopeful — eye on the state of modern journalism. Hamill discusses the positive aspects of tabloid journalism as well as the negative, the role of the media in such events as the death of Princess Diana, the place newspapers hold in today's society, the impact of television, and the lowering of journalistic standards.

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