Tuesday, June 23, 2009

News Junkie

Readers of this blog know that one of my pet peeves is when a book purports to be about a particular subject but turns into a memoir. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't enjoy a good memoir every so often, as long as it isn't disguised as something else.

Jason Leopold was one of the reporters who covered the California energy crisis and exposed Enron. Before he became a reporter, he was addicted to cocaine and stole to support his habit. News Junkie is about falling into addiction and trying to start over with the constant fear that the past will be exposed. This fear leads him into a self-destructive cycle, and his life falls apart multiple times. He eventually discovers that the thrill of writing an exclusive news story is almost as exciting as scoring a line of coke, the classic case of replacing one addiction with another.

News Junkie offers advice and inspiration for beat reporters everywhere. Leopold explains how one cultivates trusted sources, which is probably even more important than writing well. Indeed, in spite of the front cover art, I picture the author talking on the phone rather than typing at a keyboard. He also describes how he sometimes manipulated sources by playing them against each other, but he takes the viewpoint that it's okay as long as the story is true (some journalism ethicists may disagree with this aggressive perspective).

Leopold's memoir illustrates a complex, realistic character. He isn't entirely likable -- he confesses to doing some pretty rotten things -- yet the reader can't help rooting for him. It's refreshing to read a memoir where the author doesn't carry on about how great he is, although the self-criticism can get a bit whiny at times. This book also describes the California energy crisis, Enron's demise, and the reporting behind it all. Leopold was definitely fortunate to be "in the right place at the right time." Overall, it's an entertaining page-turner. I actually finished the last 20 pages in a parking lot because I couldn't wait until I got home!

UPDATE 08/17/2009 - For anyone interested in further exploring the "junkie journalist memoir" genre, see The Night of the Gun.

Current tally: 47 books finished, 41 books acquired


Chris said...

So I wasn't a narcotics junkie, but can totally relate to the rush of a good story comparing to the rush of a fix (cigarettes, food, sex) ... seriously, for those of us drawn to journalism, it is unreal.

TPR said...

Hi there,
This is Jason Leopold. I am the author of News Junkie. A colleague forwarded your review to me and I wanted to personally stop by to say thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to read my book I am grateful for the honest review and for the kind words.

Jason Leopold