Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brooks on Books: Morning Miracle by Dave Kindred

If you love newspapers, you'll likely enjoy "Morning Miracle," acclaimed writer Dave Kindred's look at "The Washington Post's" struggle to redefine itself in the Internet era. But you have to really love newspapers. As Kindred admits, this book, subtitled "Inside the Washington Post: A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life," is a valentine to the profession, a mostly admiring look at the paper itself and the whole idea of journalism itself and especially working in journalism. What this book is NOT is a blueprint for how newspapers can survive in this digital age. In fact, I wrote the book was "mostly admiring" because Kindred indicates, despite his massive respect for the journalism skills of the individuals involved, that part of the reason for the "Post's" economic losses and massive layoffs, buyouts, and such that have depleted the staff in recent years is that the folks steering the ship were slow to adapt.

There is a tone of melancholy throughout "Morning Miracle," but not of the depressing variety. It's more the "folks getting together at the bar and singing sad songs but enjoying the hell out of reliving their memories" kind of sadness. Kindred loves the "Post," loves the industry, and he clearly hates the thought of print going extinct. But as he tells the story of how we got to the point where we have to entertain that kind of thought, he includes plenty of strong evidence for what makes newspapers at their best essential components of not just the media, but of our lives. You have to already share that view on at least some level, though, or you might be a little turned off by some of the pedestal-placing of newspaper journalism.

Kindred, best known as a sportswriter, takes a broader approach in his look at this single publication. He basically hung around the "Post" for a while and talked to all sorts of people, and he mixes his own reporting with the accounts of Posties past and present and a good dose of history. I think the early part of the book, in which Kindred writes an effective, entertaining account of the newspaper's origins and development, including the fascinating saga of its most notable publishers, the Grahams, makes this a worthwhile read by itself.

Then, however, Kindred serves up profiles of a variety of "Post" individuals and some of their most influential works. I like the variety in this section, as the writers range from investigative reporters like Dana Priest to feature writer/humorist Gene Weingarten.

After that section, Kindred delves into the various strategies used over the years to try to integrate "The Washington Post" into a post-Internet media landscape. There is a lot of inside baseball kind of stuff here, perhaps not as compelling to the average reader as to news junkies, but I thought it was great. I canceled my subscription a while ago after getting fed up with the price increases and the content decreases, but I do have some nostalgia for the glory days of "The Post"...or at least the "not-dying" days. This is a fun book for those of us who appreciate the value of a good newspaper and regret the medium's decline.

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