Monday, November 21, 2011

Book a busman's holiday for this journalist

If you ask John Strickler, he will tell you I took forever to finish Judy Muller's nonfiction book "Emus Loose in Egnar" (University of Nebraska Press, 2011, 264 pp., $24.95)

You see, John, The Mercury's photo director, is next in line at work to read this book about journalism in small towns. And I did take weeks and weeks to finish the book - not because I was savoring every word, but because I KEPT FALLING ASLEEP.

I read books to escape, and reading about small-town journalism, for this small-town journalist, was, well, no escape at all. I kept waiting to love the book, to be moved to tears by it as another of my colleagues said she was. It never came to pass.

Two of my friends at work read the book before me. The aforementioned one loved it. The other said she was rather bored by it. I definitely agree with the latter!

Muller's writing is sound, the stories are solid, the premise engaging: Hyperlocal journalism may be floundering in the big cities, but in small towns, it's holding its own. Muller's anecdotes add fuel to the fire that Journalists are quirky, misunderstood survivors. We will withstand years of poverty and ridicule for the sake of our craft. And if all else fails, we'll go to some unheard of place and buy their paper so we can continue the cycle of poverty and exhaustion.

Lord, we are a tiresome bunch.

Might I add that we always think we're right. I call it "editoritis." So, while I call Muller's book a snoozefest, you might fall in love with the well-researched tale.

Kirkus Reviews - rather a respectable gauge of the written word - loved the book. Here's a link to their favorable review.

Good luck with  this one, John. After you're finished with it, reporter Evan Brandt has dibs on the book. I'm guessing the non-fiction, history-loving Mr. Brandt will love it. I wish I had.

What University of Nebraska Press says about the book:

At a time when mainstream news media are hemorrhaging and doomsayers are predicting the death of journalism, take heart: the First Amendment is alive and well in small towns across America. In Emus Loose in Egnar, award-winning journalist Judy Muller takes the reader on a grassroots tour of rural American newspapers, from an Indian reservation in Montana to the Alaska tundra to Martha’s Vineyard, and discovers that many weeklies are not just surviving, but thriving.

In these small towns, stories can range from club news to Klan news, from broken treaties to broken hearts, from banned books to escaped emus; they document the births, deaths, crimes, sports, and local shenanigans that might seem to matter only to those who live there. And yet, as this book shows us, these “little” stories create a mosaic of American life that tells us a great deal about who we are—what moves us, angers us, amuses us. 

Filled with characters both quirky and courageous, the book is a heartening reminder that there is a different kind of “bottom line” in the hearts of journalists who keep churning out good stories, week after week, for the corniest of reasons: that our freedoms depend on it. Not that they would put it that way, necessarily. In the words of one editor in Colorado, “If we found a political official misusing taxpayer funds, we wouldn’t hesitate to nail him to a stump.”

Click here to read an excerpt.

About the author:

Judy Muller is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and is the author of Now This: Radio, Television, and the Real World. She is also an NPR commentator and has worked as a correspondent for ABC, CBS, and PBS, winning numerous Emmy awards and, in 2010, the prestigious Peabody Award. She began her career at a weekly newspaper in Freehold, N,J. She now resides in Los Angeles, and Norwood, Colo.

On video:

Click here for Part 1 of a video of Muller talking about her book on"Connie Martinson Talks Books" (about 14 min.). Click here for Part 2 (about 15 min).

1 comment:

Katie McVay said...

I agree that newspapers are thriving in small town America. And I agree with Michelle that the Mercury is holding its own. Just the other day I was behind three people in line at the 7-11 on High Street and they all had a Mercury in their hand. I did too!