Book Review: Bad News

Bad News, by Tom Fenton
The full title of this book is Bad News: the decline of reporting, the business of news, and the danger to us all. Although all things journalism interest me, this book did not. Here's my story...

First, it was primarily about television journalists (which sounds like an oxymoron). I think what Fenton tried to do was discuss broadcast news overall, but he bearly touched on radio or internet news. I've always had a bias for the print journalists out there and this book reenforced that sentiment. So, the subject matter was not my favorite.

The book was also slightly out of date which is more my fault for picking it up 3 years after publication. Generally, "better late than never" is a good rule to go by, but "never" would have been a better plan when it came to reading this book. There is some mention of Iran still producing nuclear arms, which turned out to be wrong. The author shows his age as he claims, essentially, that young people don't care about foreign news. Of course, mentions of blogs, online reporting and the like are almost non-existent in this book. I find it funny that Fenton bags young people when he doesn't even mention some of the most popular media outlets. He scoffs at the Daily Show and condescends more than a few times.

The writing was pretty bad. I thought maybe it was just kind of boring, but I longed for the ending and seriously thought it would never come. I was mostly skimming by the end. There was a lot of material to work through, especially some background on Russia, China, the Middle East and the variety of ways they're tied together (through oil, war, policy, etc). There was too much material and not enough good, engaging writing to put it all together. I'm still deciding if I learned anything new from it. Ironically enough, it seemed as though it was a bunch of print journalists' materials regurgitated into this guy's book.

Not only was the subject matter dated, but technical aspects of the writing were weak. I found a typo at the beginning of each chapter and I think I came across a misspelling as well. There were some good quotes from some big-time broadcasters, but far more were bad. They either went on too long or were spliced up by so many commas, one didn't know when to pause and when to think. I also didn't feel there were tons of facts to back up Fenton's claims. Finally, this book is chock full of questions. They're EVERYWHERE. I saw more question marks where I rather would have seen either answers or thoughtful insight.

I do not recommend this book. I'm actually reading a very nice contrast called Made to Stick, which talks about creating successful ideas. A lot of it is about writing and all of it provides better insights on ways the media could improve (even though that's NOT the main goal of the book). I will be sure to review that one, as well.

Fenton's book is more a book of complaints and questions that take the reader in rhetorical circles.

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