Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Uncrowned King

Across the river from the M.G. Vassanji reading is another high-profile author event, this one hosted by the other Greenwood sister at Greenwood's Bookshoppe (7925 - 104 St @ 7:30 pm). Maclean's editor Kenneth Whyte will do an on-stage interview with the delightful Todd Babiak, focusing on Whyte's just-released book about American media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Yes, the Citizen Kane "rosebud" guy. Born rich, Hearst (1862-1951) started by running his father's San Francisco newspaper and built a powerful national chain of papers and magazines. Some consider him the father of tabloid journalism for some of his papers' focus on lurid sensationalism, but his aggressive reporters were the ones getting the stories. For a look at a true tabloid journalism king, check out The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer by Jack Vitek.
Hearst was early on a progressive, a supporter of FDR and the New Deal, but his politics shifted rightwards later in life, at odds with public opinion. His
overextended media empire came crashing down in the 1930s, with a court seizing control in 1937. Remind you of anyone? Yes, Conrad Black, who, before beginning his media empire, "as a teenager, devoured W.A. Swanberg's biography of William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Hearst". And who did Conrad Black hire to run his new national newspaper, the National Post, in 1998? Kenneth Whyte. An interesting triangle. That's Whyte at the bottom of this post, as pictured in the New York Times, after testifying in defense of Black at his criminal trial in Chicago in 2007.

With the 1961 Swanberg bio and a weighty 2001 bio, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst from David Nasaw, I don't think the world was desperately in need of another book about Hearst, but Whyte notes that his book focuses on Hearst's early career. He explains in an interview with Maclean's:
Q: I know your intent for the book wasn’t to create a full-fledged bio of Hearst, but to focus on the early portion of his career and his rise to prominence in newspaper publishing. Why that specific focus?
A: Well, a couple of reasons. One, that’s what I’m interested in. I’m a journalist so I was interested in Hearst as a journalist and a publisher and a newspaperman. The biographies of Hearst generally consider him to be a failure in his chosen profession. And his reputation in the industry is about as low as you can get. It all goes back to the period of so-called yellow journalism in the 1890s when Hearst went to New York and engaged Joseph Pulitzer in a newspaper war. I was going to do [the book] just on the newspaper war originally, but the more I read about it the more I began to realize that Hearst had been seriously misrepresented in these accounts. And that he’d done some astonishing work–even heroic work–and hadn’t gotten credit for it.
Whyte is an interesting guy himself. He grew up in Edmonton, starting his career in sports writing at the Sherwood Park News, moving on to the once-mighty right-wing mouthpiece, Alberta Report as reporter and then editor, before starting up The National Post for Black. I'm a Globe & Mail loyalist, but the years 1998-2000, into 2001, were magic for Canadian newspaper readers with two excellent papers every morning! Whyte assembled a great team of writers and designers at the Post and set a impertinent iconoclastic editorial tone. The Globe was forced to up its game and became a better paper thanks to the competition. But good things can't last - the Post lost buckets of money. The Asper family bought it and cut costs by cutting the pricey stuff - writers. Just recently the Post stopped publishing a weekday print edition in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and I don't think anyone will be surprised if it folds during the current economic downturn. Whyte was ditched by the Aspers in 2003. He moved on to Saturday Night magazine and then Maclean's. Forget about Hearst - I look forward to Whyte's memoir of his times in the media circus and the great Canadian newspaper war!


Anonymous Todd said...

YOU'RE delightful. Good post. I thought I would see you last night at the Room to Read launch.

1:46 p.m.  
Anonymous Libarbarian said...

"Room to Read" - yes, was triple-booked that night. There's too much to do in "Deadmonton"!

10:20 p.m.  

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