December 29, 2011 · 1 Comments
By Ann Marie Martin:
The New York Times is Dan Schwarz’s newspaper.
It belongs to him not because he’s its publisher, editor or reporter. He’s one of its devoted readers – addict, he says some would call him – and he’s been a Times reader for as long as he could read.
“I have had a lifelong love affair with the New York Times,” he writes in the introduction to his forthcoming book, “EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.” The State University of New York Press is publishing it in March.
This love doesn’t turn a blind eye to real problems. The book addresses the two tumultuous years of Alabama native Howell Raines’ editorship, 2001-03. These years included the scandal surrounding reporter Jayson Blair’s series of fictitious articles about serial killings in Washington, D.C., and the resignation of Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, also of Alabama, following a charge of fraudulent reporting for relying on stringers to do his footwork.
Another scandal rocked the paper after Bill Keller took over as executive editor. Reporter Judith Miller’s inaccurate stories about WMD in the run-up to the Iraq War and her involvement in the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity also raise doubts about the steadiness of editorial leadership.
Still, some passages read like a love letter to the newspaper:
“Proust has his Madelaine, I my Times. For me it implies satisfying private moments when I recused myself from worries and lost myself in a world beyond my own concerns. Even though it doesn’t leave its mark – its ink – on my hands as it used to, it leaves its mark indelibly on my brain and heart.”
“EndTimes?” is a product of brain and heart – passion for its subject, yes, but also clear-eyed critique of that subject’s strengths and weaknesses. Brain and heart are well balanced here, and I expected no less from the book’s author.
Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English Literature and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He’s written extensively about the works of James Joyce and other early 20th-century novelists. His many books include “In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century” and “Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture.”
I met Dan in 1996 when he was Visiting Eminent Scholar in the Humanities at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and I was doing graduate work in the English department. I took his seminar on Joyce’s “Ulysses” and served as his graduate research assistant.
I discovered that his academic analyses are insightful and get to the point of the matter, and he presents his points in readable prose. So when he told me about his New York Times project, I knew I would appreciate his examination of America’s iconic newspaper and also enjoy the reading experience. I was right on both counts.
During a recent phone interview from his home in Ithaca, N.Y., Dan told me he conducted about 45 interviews starting in 2004 and continuing into 2008 when he began to write the book. Then he went back in 2010 “for a retrospective view.”
“I interviewed every living executive editor of the Times,” he said, “as well as a good number of the masthead figures and a good number of the section editors.”
Along with a good overview of the Times’ history and recent past, Dan focuses on an issue facing all newspapers in the digital age: Will there still be a print edition in 10 to 15 years?
“That’s one thing we see implicit in the question mark (in the title of the book),” he said. “ ‘Crisis and Turmoil’ implies that there was a period of difficulty, and I’m not talking about Jayson Blair and Howard Raines, although those are very important focal points in the book.
“I’m talking about the challenge of the Internet, or the challenge to the print newspaper by the Internet model and also the challenge to the business model, which is very real.”
Under the business heading, Dan looks at the growth of the paper’s lighter side, and not always favorably, as it tries to find new readers and revenue sources. He also offers critiques of various columnists, Maureen Dowd among them.
There was a bit of printer’s ink in Dan’s veins as well as on his hands before he began “EndTimes?” He’s written travel articles. His brother is a journalist. From the point of view of this newspaper veteran, the literary and social scholar becomes, in this book, a pretty good newspaper reporter.
Dan said writing about Damon Runyon and his world helped fuel the spark of curiosity that became “EndTimes?”
“It was after the Runyon book that I realized I was interested in journalism and how it worked, because I had done a great deal of reading about tabloids and about the newspaper industry from the turn of the century and even earlier.
“But you are absolutely right. This certainly made me 100 times more of a journalist underneath.”
Ann Marie Martin, The Times’ former books editor, is now communications director at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. Contact her at [email protected].