Freelance media critic Richard Byrne looked at three new books.
These mutual recriminations haunt three recent books about broadcast media and those who have shaped it. In the manner of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, readers can see the ghosts of the news industry past and present in these works. Yet none of them offers any reassuring or practical vision of the future.
The books are:
Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism, by Bob Edwards (Wiley). Byrne calls it a succinct introduction to Murrow’s career.
In fact, at times it is too succinct: The book is full of narrative hiccups and leaps forward in staccato bursts of concision, pausing only to linger over a verbatim transcription of a momentous radio broadcast.
Edwards thinks both the business and the audience have changed too much for a new Murrow to emerge.
Media Man: Ted Turner’s Improbable Empire, by Ken Auletta (Atlas). This is the expanded version of a 2001 New Yorker article that won Auletta a National Magazine Award. It’s a whopping 160 pages.
Readers may find more detailed analyses of the merger of AOL and Time Warner than Auletta’s slim volume, but they will find none more entertaining, straightforward or comprehensible.
Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News, by David T. Z. Mindich (Oxford Univ.).
Mindich’s slim book persuasively diagnoses a serious problem. No significant factor in this sad slide toward studied ignorance among post-Baby Boomers — from trends explicated in contemporary media and cultural studies to the vapidity and violence of today’s broadcast journalism — is left untouched. But the book’s conclusion — entitled “How to Tune Back In” — offers unworkable solutions to this media malaise that range from magically transforming the nation’s education and political systems to hapless echoes of the shopworn “take back” mantras employed in mass street demonstrations.