Books

The Return of the Moguls

To be published by ForeEdge, an imprint of University Press of New England, on March 6, 2018

“With this book Kennedy establishes himself as one of our most knowledgeable scholars on the changing communications landscape and how the internet is having as profound effect on our culture as the invention of the printing press had on the people of that era.” — Bob Schieffer, CBS News

“There is no ‘fake’ news in Dan Kennedy’s important, scrupulously reported account of why news and newspapers are vital to a democracy.” — Ken Auletta, The New Yorker

“In a book whose conclusions will be debated, Kennedy rightly suggests that quality journalism is not only salvageable, but necessary.” — Kirkus Reviews, Dec. 19, 2017

Will the return of old-style individual ownership spark a renaissance in the newspaper business?

Over the course of a generation, the story of the daily newspaper has been an unchecked slide from record profitability and readership to plummeting profits, increasing irrelevance, and inevitable obsolescence. The forces killing major dailies, alternative weeklies, and small-town shoppers are well understood — or seem obvious in hindsight, at least — and the catalog of publications that have gone under reads like a who’s who of American journalism. During the past half-century, old-style press barons gave way to a cabal of corporate interests who were unable or unwilling to invest in the future even as technological change was destroying their core business. The Taylor family sold the Boston Globe to the New York Times Company in 1993 for a cool $1.1 billion. Twenty years later, the Times Company resold it for just $70 million. The unexpected story, however, is not what they sold it for but who they sold it to: John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.

A billionaire who made his money in the world of high finance, Henry inspired optimism in Boston because of his track record as a public-spirited business executive—and because his deep pockets seemed to ensure that the shrunken newspaper would not be subjected to further downsizing. In just a few days, the sale of the Globe was overtaken by much bigger news: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the world’s richest people, had reached a deal to buy the Washington Post for $250 million.

Henry’s ascension at the Globe sparked hope. Bezos’s purchase seemed to inspire nothing short of ecstasy, as numerous observers expressed the belief that his lofty status as one of our leading digital visionaries could help him solve the daunting financial problems facing the newspaper business.

Though Bezos and Henry are the two most prominent individuals to enter the newspaper business, a third preceded them. Aaron Kushner, a greeting-card executive, acquired California’s Orange County Register in July 2012 then pursued an audacious agenda, expanding coverage and hiring journalists in an era when nearly all other newspaper owners were trying to avoid cutting both.

The Return of the Moguls chronicles a story in the making. Is a return to old-style individual ownership sparking a renaissance for the newspaper business, and if so, how?

The Wired City

book-cover

Buy “The Wired City” from Amazon.

“Kennedy’s book, ‘The Wired City,’ is a brisk, efficient primer on the (often good) things that are happening in journalism in an age when traditional newspaper circulation and advertising revenues are declining.” — David Shribman, The Boston Globe

My book on community news sites, “The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age,” was published by University of Massachusetts Press in June 2013. The major focus of “The Wired City” is the New Haven Independent, with significant sections as well on The Batavian, CT News Junkie, the Connecticut Mirror, Voice of San Diego and Baristanet.

For more information about “The Wired City,” please visit thewiredcity.org.

Here is a description of “The Wired City” from the UMass Press catalog:

In “The Wired City,” Dan Kennedy tells the story of the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit community website in Connecticut that is at the leading edge of reinventing local journalism. Through close attention to city government, schools and neighborhoods, and through an ongoing conversation with its readers, the Independent’s small staff of journalists has created a promising model of how to provide members of the public with the information they need in a self-governing society.

Although the Independent is the principal subject of “The Wired City,” Kennedy examines a number of other online news projects as well, including nonprofit organizations such as Voice of San Diego and the Connecticut Mirror and for-profit ventures such as The Batavian, Baristanet, and CT News Junkie. Where legacy media such as major city newspapers are cutting back on coverage, entrepreneurs are now moving in to fill at least some of the vacuum.

The Wired City” includes the perspectives of journalists, activists, and civic leaders who are actively re-envisioning how journalism can be meaningful in a hyperconnected age of abundant news sources. Kennedy provides deeper context by analyzing the decline of the newspaper industry in recent years and, in the case of those sites choosing such a path, the uneasy relationship between nonprofit status and the First Amendment.

At a time of pessimism over the future of journalism, “The Wired City” offers hope. What Kennedy documents is not the death of journalism but rather the uncertain and sometimes painful early stages of rebirth.

Little People

Buy “Little People” directly from the author.

“‘Little People’ is extraordinary, a heartfelt yet not maudlin story of the achondroplasia — dwarfism — of Mr. Kennedy’s young daughter.” — Russ Smith, The Wall Street Journal

First published in 2003 by Rodale, “Little People” has been chosen as the 2010 summer-reading book at Middleborough (Mass.) High School. The text of “Little People” is freely available online, and a print-on-demand edition can be purchased as well. For details, please visit Little People the Book.

“Little People” received critical acclaim from the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal, and was highlighted by National Public Radio, Salon and Child Magazine.

From the original book jacket

A week after her birth in 1992, Dan Kennedy’s  firstborn daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Reassured by doctors that Becky would have normal intelligence and a normal life span, Dan and his wife, Barbara, quickly adjusted to the reality of her condition. Not so easy was grasping people’s attitudes toward those with physical differences.

In “Little People,” award-winning journalist Kennedy explores dwarfism from ancient times, when dwarfs held an honored position in some cultures, to more modern days, when they were featured in freak shows and treated as human guinea pigs by Nazi scientists. While sharing his own poignant experiences, Kennedy works in wonderful passages about dwarf subculture, including the fever pitch of the dating scene during the annual Little People of America get-together, and the caste system that exists among those with different varieties of the condition. Kennedy profiles individuals whose small stature has helped them to succeed, and others who have allowed themselves to be exploited and abused.

But the most controversial ground covered in the book is the author’s hard look at medical screening procedures, or designer genetics, that already make it possible for parents to eliminate differences ranging from dwarfism to Down syndrome, and could soon target genetic traits such as manic depression and homosexuality. While it is true that there has never been a better time for those who are outside the mainstream, whether one is wheelchair-bound, mentally challenged, or gay, it is also clear that most parents do not wish these differences for their own children.

Kennedy argues that there is a cultural value to preserving differences, and that eliminating them may harm society in unpredictable ways.

Photo copyright © 2004 by Barbara Kennedy. All rights reserved.

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