cover image Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts

Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts

Jill Abramson. Simon & Schuster, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2320-7

The internet killed off and resurrected journalism in unpredictable, hopeful, but corrupted ways, according to this scintillating insider’s history. A former New York Times executive editor, Abramson (Strange Justice) profiles four major media companies in upheaval. Representing the dinosaurs are the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers, whose expensive, high-quality news operations faced bankruptcy a decade ago as print circulation and ad revenue shriveled. Representing online innovators are the website Buzzfeed, which pioneered “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” clickbait, and Vice, which morphed from an X-rated punk-hipster lifestyle magazine to gonzo-journalism video juggernaut. Abramson shows how the rivals learned and converged: Buzzfeed and Vice edged into award-winning prestige journalism, yet have struggled financially; the Times and Post mastered internet eyeball-grabbing strategies while amassing lucrative online subscriptions for their authoritative reporting; the price for all four, she notes, was an ethically queasy blurring of lines between paid advertising and news (the author’s tense narrative of her Times editorship and controversial firing centers on this issue). Abramson’s shrewd, stylishly written account includes colorful characters—Vice’s culture of sexual harassment featured a naked office walkabout by founder Shane Smith—and savvy portraits of newsroom dynamics. The result is one of the best takes yet on journalism’s changing fortunes. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Feb.)