Larry Peterson, |
Speaking as someone who has poked fun at errors in my local newspaper many a time, I have a newfound respect for the newspaper business after reading Larry Peterson's City Editor. Peterson takes the reader into the hectic world of daily newspaper publishing, one suddenly complicated by an onslaught of unethical interference from above. Peterson knows his subject well, drawing on years of personal experience as a city news editor himself. He really brings the hectic newsroom to life in this fast and furious chronicle of one singular week of news.
Mike Donahue is the city editor of The Times-Herald in Cornwall, South Carolina, a northwesterner recently transplanted to the bucolic American South. His wife and daughter are still out west trying to sell the house, but it's hard to see how Mike would have much time with them even if they had already joined him. The job of city editor is a trying one that requires long hours, a perpetual juggling act to keep reporters straight and stories fit to be printed, and a very thick skin when dealing with senior management. He is fortunate enough to have some good reporters working under him, but some of the young ones still need the type of instruction and training (not to mention rewriting) a city editor is compelled to provide, and there is always some element of internal rivalry at play in the background. Then there's Chester Rutledge, the paper's executive editor, who has a definite bee in his bonnet where Mike is concerned.
It hasn't been a particularly good week. A recent story got the identities of a murderer and his victim backwards, one of his best reporters is burned out and ready to quit, another reporter submitted an article containing a piece of fiction, and a local congresswoman is determined to get the paper's political reporter fired for what she sees as biased criticism of her positions. Things really start to heat up, though, in conjunction with a breaking story involving the possible building of a correctional institute for repeat sexual offenders in the county. The governor has denied the possibility of such a decision, but Mike gets his hands on an official memo from the Department of Prisons that suggests otherwise. What Mike finds really disturbing, however, is the proactive attempts of the paper's executive editor to squelch the story before it can even be investigated properly. Mike and a coterie of loyal reporters almost find themselves making the news rather than merely reporting it as things soon get a bit ugly. Mike puts his job and possibly even his life on the line in order to pursue a story of dirty politics, greed, unethical behavior and murder.
I would imagine this novel is very instructional when it comes to those considering journalism as a career; not only does it chronicle the type of atmosphere a budding reporter might expect to find in the real world, it also proves quite instructional in terms of seeing how an unacceptable article is made worthy of print by the experienced hand of an editor. For a layman such as myself, this thrilling read zooms along at the hectic pace of the busy newsroom, giving the reader a thrilling story with very human characters. It also gives me a new respect for journalists who will fight to preserve the integrity of their profession -- one can only wish there were more of them in real life.