This book about the commercial takeover of the news business is sure to make a lot of powerful people very angry. Jill Abramson takes an unsparing look at US journalism’s moral decline; as former executive editor of the New York Times, she is someone who knows where most of the bodies are buried and is prepared to draw the reader a detailed map... Merchants of Truth in its frankness is an essential read, and its skewering of journalism’s leaders will earn Abramson some new enemies, as well as provoke old ones. But it’s unlikely that a woman with balls like iron cantaloupes will much care about that, as long as she sounds the alarm.
Abramson’s apparent lapses on attribution - six apparently bang-to-rights instances she’s copped to - are disappointing then. She’s said they were inadvertent and relayed “facts” rather than “ideas” or “opinions.” As one of the plagiarized writers noted in Rolling Stone though, this distinction seems disingenuous: they represented others’ reporting. At minimum, it suggests carelessness – doubly unfortunate in that it occurs in an otherwise sharply reported work.
Jill Abramson's Merchants of Truth is chock-full of arresting titbits...The book charts what Abramson calls journalism's "Age of Anxiety" through four institutions, two old - The New York Times and The Washington Post - and two new, BuzzFeed and VICE. A former executive editor of The New York Times, Abramson describes the perfect storm that has engulfed newspapers over the past dozen years. Economic recession; an ageing and declining readership; falling advertising revenue; the arrival of the smartphone and the rise of social media - all have combined to create a world where "content" has replaced "stories", where reader metrics trump editorial judgment, where trivia has become the tail that wags the journalistic dog, and where arguments about "fake news" have undermined public trust... Abramson charts that evolution in exhaustive detail. (A little too exhaustively; the book is much too long.) There is a note of regret in her voice, for the way in which the division between the "church and state" of commerce and editorial has been eroded.
As she notes, very fairly, the men responsible for her downfall dispute her version of events. But her account of the disagreements and the Machiavellian management manoeuvres she experienced is engrossing and anyone who has worked at the highest level in newspapers will recognise the realities she describes. If they are women, they will certainly sympathise with her plight, because the defenestration of Abramson was infused with the kind of sexism that, by its nature, goes unrecognised by the men responsible.
The Merchants of Truth is highly readable, massively informed and extremely well argued. Essential reading for everyone who wants to understand not only the media, but how society is changing in the age of the emoji and the meme....This is a big book that covers Abramson's own sacking from the New York Times for being, as she tells it, a “pushy woman”. She traces, in excruciating detail, the abject failure of The Washington Post and the New York Times to understand the new media. The Post, she reports, actually had an opportunity to buy into Facebook early on, but let it slip by. The paper was eventually rescued by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who has applied many of Buzzfeed's techniques.
On paper at least, Abramson’s greatest advantage in telling this story is her proximity to it. As executive editor of the New York Times between 2011 and 2014, and managing editor before that, she was a key player at a key time for the industry. Abramson saves her most acerbic and cutting observations for the upstarts, at one point referring to Vice founder Shane Smith simply as “Bullshitter Shane”. But her feeling for the Times borders on worship, and sometimes that interferes with her objectivity... It is, at the very minimum, ironic that a book about slipping media standards appears to have been so poorly fact-checked by its publisher. It is even worse if, as seems to be at least partly the case, Abramson approached writing about Vice with the same contempt that she implicitly condemns in its culture. Most of the problems she describes at the company, such as sexual harassment, have been covered extensively elsewhere, so the big picture may be correct – but for a book about the very mechanics of truth, merely ringing true isn’t really good enough.
The travails of newspapers are well known, and Abramson does a thorough job of describing the contortions at The Times and The Post. Not so long ago senior editors would leave meetings if business issues were raised. It would have been unthinkable to have technologists sitting on the newsroom floor monitoring web traffic. ... BuzzFeed has also announced recent cuts to its news division, which has hounded President Trump. So Abramson’s story ends in the middle of another big shift, as the old lags find new life and the digital tyros hit an uncomfortable adolescence. A physical book about this constant re-sorting of merchants and guardians of truth, however interesting, seems oddly analogue.
Her reporting is lucid and her commentary insightful. She has fully grasped the worlds she describes, understands their pressures and the daring required to succeed — while posing an insistent question. This is: do the new media — with their lack of inhibition about mixing editorial and ad contents — bring a journalism infected with a commercial virus? This has not ruined news. BuzzFeed and even Vice have developed investigatory units; the Times and the Post continue to do expensive, top-class investigations. But it has remodelled journalism into a trade able to turn from virtuous revelation to sponsor promotion in a beat.
The book charts what Abramson calls journalism’s “Age of Anxiety” through four institutions, two old – The New York Times and The Washington Post – and two new, BuzzFeed and VICE. A former executive editor of The New York Times, Abramson describes the perfect storm that has engulfed newspapers over the past dozen years. Economic recession; an ageing and declining readership; falling advertising revenue; the arrival of the smartphone and the rise of social media – all have combined to create a world where “content” has replaced “stories”... Abramson charts that evolution in exhaustive detail. (A little too exhaustively; the book is much too long.) There is a note of regret in her voice, for the way in which the division between the “church and state” of commerce and editorial has quietly been eroded.
...a story that benefits immensely from Abramson’s inside dirt, her genuine admissions about the errors she made and the obvious delight she takes in settling scores. In fact, nothing seems to please her as much as the moments when she can stick her knives into Dean Baquet...It’s the ultimate irony: Jill Abramson was, indirectly at least, fired because of her resistance to the “innovation report.” And now she’s produced a marvelous book about exactly how prescient the darn thing was.