Sunday, October 23, 2011

Newspaper Titan by Amanda Smith/ Those Magnificient Medills by Megan McKinney

Two books on the exact same topic, one a massive tome, the other a wee bit smaller but both pack their punch. Imagine my surprise when I got my copy of the NY Times Book Review and there on the front cover was one book I`d just finished with a second book that I was half way through side by side,It won`t happen often so I will make the most of it.
Amanda Smiths book at nearly 600 pages is by far the bigger of the two, it is by any means a rather excellent achievement, researched, detailed, illustrated, noted and highly readable if a little wordy it tells the story of the life of Eleanor Medill Patterson who ended her life as one of the most powerful and highly disliked woman of her times, the first chief editor and publisher of a major daily newspaper she was born into newspaper royalty with all the gifting that that entailed and yet hers and her families lives were entwined.

Alcohol,misery, depression and dissipation on a scale that belies all the were both given and worked for, happiness and good relationships were not theirs, bitter rivalries, jealousy, infighting and attention seeking and gossiping meant that each generation suffered and repeated the behaviour of the preceding generation, intelligence was applied to money making and not to thinking in the Medill/Patterson/McCormick family.
The Medill/Pattersons flourished in a time when Newspapers and Print
Journalism were king, they hesitated not at all to express their feelings and views, especially when it came to politics, it appears that the only person they thought worse than Hitler was Franklin D.Roosevelt. The thought that people might be offended, hurt, ruined or disadvantaged by their words appears never to have entered their heads, their arrogance was stupendous and so was their ignorance. They were however very well connected and so as one door shut, they simply went in another!
The Daily News, The Washington Times-Herald and Newsday all had the imprint of this rollicking family imprinted on them and so did the School of Journalism for many decades to come, although their papers did not long out live them.
While this book is at times overwritten, it is fair, even handed and never looses the opportunity for humour, while a huge read it never wallowed in heaviness.

The Magnificent Medills loses nothing in its smaller telling of the tale and it fairly buzzes along, telling the tale from a somewhat more social point of view than the Smith book and with a longer range focus in that it goes far more into the life of Alicia Patterson, who was the last of this family to truly wield journalistic power and who founded the most successful post WWII newspaper in America..Newsday. It does however cover all the major points that Smiths book does and so nothing is lost if you can only say read McKinneys book, except perhaps some of the ghastly detail of this families lives which made them no Saints of Virtue. One certainly comes away realising that no amount of money or power can bring you health and happiness and it can be very hard to beat the genetic components of our makeup especially if it is entwined around addiction, although some members of the family did triumph, it was a very small number indeed and the price was horrendous.
I enjoyed both books, but to be honest I do favour Amanda Smiths book which I think will go down as the definitive account of this legendary American family.
Amanda Smiths book is available through The Auckland Library System. I bought my own copy of the Magnificent Medills via Unity Books and in hardback it only cost me a few dollars more than a trade paperback.

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