The Last Newspaperman–Mark DiIonno

Aired: October 28, 2012

Award-winning Star Ledger journalist Mark DiIonno stopped by Humanities Connection to discuss his new novel, The Last Newspaperman, a fast-paced, thought-provoking story that raises questions about our contemporary media culture through a fictional reporter’s experiences working at a tabloid newspaper in the early 20th century. From celebrity scandals and obsession with crime, it’s clear that today’s newspapers draw a great deal from their predecessors. In this interview, DiIonno talks about the media and why what we read in the paper matters.

Standing in line at any supermarket or convenience store, it’s clear that tabloid journalism is thriving. With screaming headlines about celebrity misdeeds, these ragsheets may seem to be perfectly attuned to our contemporary obsessions. In reality, though, they have deep roots in the yellow journalism of the 1920s and 1930s, as described by Mark DiIonno, when publishers began to marry celebrity and crime coverage in newspapers. The Last Newspaperman examines how tabloid journalism corrupted news journalism from this period on.

Four real stories structure The Last Newspaperman. Each, too, had roots in New Jersey, from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to the Hindenburg disaster. DiIonno uses these stories as a way to illustrate four media narratives, which still frame journalism today. Celebrity, how the media makes mistakes in writing “the first draft of history,” the use of tragedy for political purposes, and how, even in the early 20th century, stories could go “viral,” like Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

Starting out as a sportswriter, DiIonno had the opportunity to meet the last of the press box reporters, men like Barney Nagler and Jerry Izenberg, who mentored him and shaped his career as a journalist. In The Last Newspaperman, he uses their voices in his characters, though, in the end, the novel offers a bleak assessment of the world of journalism.

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