Long before The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey embarrassed the Garden State on television, Mark Di Ionno, a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist for the state’s premier daily newspaper, the Star-Ledger, knew that New Jersey’s infamous happenings were fodder for national attention. So for about the past decade, between writing columns, Di Ionno labored over a work of fiction befitting his home state and its history.
The Last Newspaperman centers around the tales of an old reporter who covered four watershed events in New Jersey—the Lindbergh kidnapping, the sinking of the Morro Castle, the Hindenburg explosion, and Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds—as told to a young reporter who finds his elderly colleague in a Jersey Shore nursing home. The book is being published in September by Plexus Publishing, a regional press that attained recent notice by being the publisher of Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson, which became the HBO series of the same name.
“They call us the publisher for South Jersey,” says John Bryans, Plexus publisher and editor-in-chief. Although, he adds, the company expects The Last Newspaperman to have legs way beyond the Garden State.
Di Ionno—whose column has more than one million readers—agrees with his publisher. “We have a saying at the paper: every story has a New Jersey angle,” he says. But, he adds, going back to the historical events in his novel and certainly dating back to Sinatra’s day, “New Jersey’s always had great reach in pop culture.”
In a nutshell, The Last Newspaperman shows how tabloid journalism of the 1920s and ’30s sowed the seeds of our current crime- and celebrity-obsessed society. While many books show the glamour of old newspapermen, Di Ionno says he shows the dark side of their world. Aside from the drama of covering such historic events, there is also a story of love lost when the newspaperman offends his girlfriend by publishing pictures of the dead Lindbergh baby (a fictional plot note that follows fact).
Although this is Di Ionno’s first novel, he has published three nonfiction books with Rutgers University Press: New Jersey’s Coastal Heritage, A Guide to New Jersey’s Revolutionary War Trail for Families and History Buffs, and Backroads, New Jersey.
Plexus will be handing out galleys of The Last Newspaperman in its booth (4558), and Di Ionno will be on hand and is signing in the autographing area today, 10–11 a.m., at Table 1.
Plexus is also spotlighting a forthcoming memoir, Jacket: The Trials of a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney by John Hartmann. “It’s equally awesome,” says Bryans, “and you definitely don’t need to be a Jerseyite to love it!”
Plexus distributes to the trade through Baker & Taylor. Plexus and its authors have only one word for those who think these books have limited regional appeal: fuhgeddaboudit!