cover image Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life

Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life

Margaret Sullivan. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-28190-6

Sullivan, a columnist for the Washington Post and a former New York Times public editor, recounts in this sincere if befuddled work her hard-won career in journalism. From her internship at the “tiny” Niagara Gazette in the 1970s to her desk at the Times, Sullivan surveys the travails and triumphs of being a woman in the industry, detailing the difficulties of being an editor for one of the nation’s most read papers—including “physical proximity to the journalists whose work I was criticizing”—and her challenging transition into the role of Style writer at the Washington Post, where she regularly faces misogynistic vitriol online. She also frankly contends with her own mistakes—including her team's coverage of a 2010 mass shooting in Buffalo where she included criminal profiles of the Black victims—and tracks her improvement when she wrote with “more empathy and insight” on the death of George Floyd in 2020. It’s this use of her writing about real-life devastation as a metric for personal improvement, however, that undermines Sullivan’s claim to a high ethical standard; and her criticisms—including her thoughts on Times journalist Dean Baquet’s “mishandling” of one journalist’s resignation after using the n-word—often fall flat. The insider’s view into American journalism is engrossing, but Sullivan’s blind spots, when it comes to her own blunders, are large. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the author's role in the coverage of a mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., and the death of George Floyd.