3 out of 4 stars
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If you look just about anywhere online you'll find the phrase "fake news". The phrase has become so common, in fact, that it's used as a joke to cover anything that's untrue (or even things someone wishes are untrue). The less funny side of the phrase, however, is just how much fake news truly exists in the world. Social media is full of article headlines that are so crazy they MUST be true, and people share or retweet these articles without actually reading them or verifying the information. A family member once told my fiancée and I to stop eating buffalo chicken because an article on Facebook told her it was made of rat meat, and before that bananas were dangerous because people were injecting infected blood into them. This growing distrust with news is the central theme in The Newspaperman by Sal Nudo, a fictional thriller that weighs in at just over 160 pages.
Seth Kesler is an ordinary guy who comes across a man dressed like a 1930s newspaper boy one morning. Seth buys a copy for ten cents and goes about his day, happy that the C-U Journal has been revived and is putting out excellently-written news once again. Seth had actually worked as a freelance writer for the C-U Journal before it closed down years ago, and couldn't be happier to see that it's coming back.
However, as the days go by the writing quality quickly declines. Cuss words are included in the paper, and "Newspaperman", the man who sells papers on the street, ends up getting in a rather rough fight with some teenagers who had picked on him. Seth wonders what's going on with the paper and finds that barely anyone is in the reopened building, and he thinks he hears the screams of those teenagers from the other day from somewhere in the building...
As time goes on, everyone falls in love with the paper for the crazy (and quite possibly fake) stories and the absurd letters. It seems Richard W. Fields - a rich man who buys failed newspapers - has succeeded again. But why are the papers selling for only a dime? Why did the writing quality drop so much? Why is the building so empty, with seemingly only one writer? And that story about four teenagers burning to death in their car from a "car accident" - was that really Newspaperman who did it, or was it really an accident?
The Newspaperman is a rather quick read, and the writing flows smoothly throughout the entire story without a single error. It's one of those books where you'll glance down at the page number and be surprised 30-40 pages flew by without even realizing it. It also did a pretty good job maintaining the tension throughout the book, and there were plenty of surprises throughout the tale. I also appreciated that it was very PG-13 - a lot of books categorized as thrillers feel the need to include a graphic scene or two to show you just how bad someone can be, and luckily that wasn't the case here.
What I really enjoyed about The Newspaperman, however, was its central theme. Sal, the author, does a great job throwing examples of fake news and bad reporting into the book. For example, at one point his wife Meghan says that she gets all of her news from Facebook and shows him an article she had seen. The article mentions that Meryl Streep was running for VP in 2020 and there was even a hashtag on twitter - #Streepforveep - that was trending. He took a quick look online and saw it was from a news site he'd never heard of, and when he searched for more info he only found it on other random, small websites. Despite this, even he admits that maybe there's something to it since it's such a popular story. This mentality is the danger of fake news, and Sal points that out expertly throughout the book."Meghan! Don't you see? Can't anyone see? Articles like these are journalism at its worst, and no one seems to care!"
"Stop yelling! Why don't you just get your news from Facebook like a normal person?"
The other thing I really appreciated was that the book never gets political as far as democrats versus republicans. The book ends up dating itself when, about 75% of the way through the book, it's mentioned that Donald Trump won the election. Despite this, the book stays focused on the importance of good journalism, not whether Trump should've won or whether the democrats or republicans are to blame for the current state of affairs.
As far as negatives, there's really only one: there were a few points where Sal pulled us out of the narrative to make points about journalism just a little too long. However, aside from this small flaw, everything else about the book was rather great. I hated the ending at first, but the more I thought about it and let it roll around in my head the more I realized it had to end that way. As I write this review now, I realize it actually makes one final important point about the world we live in, and that alone makes it good.
Despite having minimal issues with the book, I don't feel like I can give it a perfect 4 out of 4 star rating. It was a quick read, it was entertaining, the story was written smoothly and I definitely enjoyed it, there's no doubt there. It was also very well edited; as I said I found no errors whatsoever! However, it just wasn't EXCELLENT, it was missing that little extra something to make it a book I'd go out of my way to recommend. I'd rate the book 3.5 stars if I could, but since I can't, my rating of The Newspaperman is 3 out of 4 stars. I'd still definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a blend of thriller with a bit of humor, or anyone who has experience with just how ridiculous fake news can be. There is a little rough language, and there's some violence that's eluded to throughout the book, so I wouldn't recommend it to kids, but they wouldn't really grasp the themes anyway (and might not even know what a newspaper is!).
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