At a time when the role of journalism is especially critical, Leonard Downie, the former executive editor of the Washington Post writes about his nearly 50 years at the newspaper and the importance of getting at the truth.
... could be characterized as a series of war stories best enjoyed by journalists, past and present. This would be a disservice to history lovers who will relish his behind-the-scenes narratives of some of the world’s biggest stories during his 44 years at The Washington Post, including 17 years as executive editor until his forced retirement in 2008 ... a celebration of what strong journalism can accomplish. It is also a cautionary tale about what’s at stake if our financially imperiled profession does not find new ways to remain viable. Plus, it’s full of great gossip ... For all his seriousness, Downie slips in many gossipy asides.
... straightforward style ... He shares his history in a simple manner, laying out the facts and the reactions of himself and others, never letting himself get too worked up ... This has the benefit of not distracting the reader with unnecessary emotion. However, such journalistic distance is a bit jarring when Downie details his private life. He appears to share as much emotion about his divorces as he does when detailing his lunch ... when discussing the Post’s Watergate coverage...Downie’s value is to provide the point of view inside the Post at the time. Such discussion may strike readers as too 'inside baseball,' but it’s important to see how a powerful editor who goes to bat for his team can create an atmosphere wherein reporters feel free to explore and probe, knowing their boss has their back. While Downie is not prone to self-congratulation, this is one time when his bravery is duly recognized ... Len Downie’s ability to tell the story—incorporating needed details without coming across as too flowery—is this book’s greatest strength. The reader is won over more by what he is saying than how he is saying it. In a book about journalism, this feels just right.
Downie is extremely well-placed to offer a history of the last 50 years in news, from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to Watergate, the Jonestown Massacre, Bill Clinton's impeachment, the Unabomber, the Sept. 11 attacks, and the invasion of Iraq. But All About the Story also functions as a primer on journalistic ethics ... Downie's style occasionally tilts toward the stilted and self-congratulatory ... I also felt pricks of irritation at the way he writes about his wives, who appear largely like graceful editorial assistants ... Nor are Downie's views on journalistic neutrality wholly convincing or coherent, resting as they seem to do on the assumption that objectivity means the same thing to everyone. Downie is comfortable, for instance, vociferously criticizing Donald Trump's treatment of the press. But he is critical of women reporters who advocate for abortion rights ... All About the Story has obvious value for anyone looking to understand the ways news has changed in the past five decades. Some of those lessons are not intentional.