In her final column for The Washington Post this past August, media critic Margaret Sullivan warned that "the next election cycle is going to be a real test for the reality-based press." She went on to urge news organizations to "break free of their hidebound practices – the love of political conflict, the addiction to elections as a horse race" and to contextualize their individual stories and political reportage in the larger frame of the anti-democratic threats to our governing institutions and to American polity itself.
This week St. Martin's Press will publish Sullivan's "Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life," a book she refers to as a "memoir-manifesto" tracing the trajectory of her 42 years in journalism, beginning as an intern for The Buffalo News in 1980 and rising through the ranks to become the first woman editor in chief and vice president of The News from 1999 to 2012. A Lackawanna native, Sullivan will discuss the book and the issues raised by it in conversation with Sheila Rayam, executive editor of The Buffalo News, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20 the Larkin at Exchange Building (726 Exchange St.).
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While many readers will appreciate Sullivan's insights into the challenges local and regional newspapers are facing in adapting to a digital age, even more will be seeking out her tough-minded critical perspectives on the particularly fraught era for America media she wrote about over the past decade at The New York Times and Washington Post.
During her six years as media columnist for The Washington Post, a period immediately following her four-year stint as public editor for The New York Times, Sullivan introduced and popularized the terms "reality-based press" to describe a fact-based journalism that was formerly referred to – usually pejoratively by its detractors – as the "mainstream media," and "pro-democracy journalism" to describe the set of principles that could guide the press through the polarization and loss of common empirical ground with its readership that characterized media coverage of the Trump era in American politics and its aftermath.
Sullivan, who described her recent departure from The Washington Post as a "self-imposed term limit," will join the faculty of Duke University as Egan Visiting Professorship of journalism at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in January.
The book discussion and signing, part of the Larkin Square Author & Speaker Series is free; Talking Leaves Books will have copies of "Newsroom Confidential" and Sullivan's 2020 book "Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy" available for purchase.