Hard News, by Seth Mnookin

Nikhyl gave me this book for Christmas — the full title is Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media. It’s a book that I didn’t expect to like, but really did. Nominally tells the story of Jayson Blair and the 36+ articles that he plagerized or fabricated over a period of months in his role at The Times, but really tells a bit about the long and influential history of the paper and the people around it. The book also gives quite a lot of good insight into how newspapers, especially those that write history like the NYT, view their responsibilities to their readership, and how some of those are dealt with on a day-to-day basis.

I have to say that I’ve only started to appreciate The New York Times over the last couple of years — for most of my life, it’s always seemed to me to be very specific, very insular, and just very disonnected from me and my life. Not to mention that their sports coverage is lousy, and shows a very odd obsession with George Steinbrenner. I think that I’m beginning to understand a little bit better, and this book helped a lot, how papers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all really inform and shape the public debate. Which means that when things go wrong, like Jayson Blair, things are very bad.

Anyway, it’s an interesting book to read — gets somewhat into the details of the people and processes, so drags a little bit in places, but the basic story and history is worth knowing. (Thanks Nikhyl!)

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