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.
As befitting a master editor, Downie’s memoir is both tight and revelatory; facts are well augmented with insider details, supporting a forthright professional critique of the newspaper’s standards for publishing nationally sensitive or controversial stories. At a time when the press is under relentless attack from the Trump administration, Downie’s engrossing memoir reminds readers of the personal sacrifices journalists make in pursuit of a story and the rigorous criteria they apply in delivering the news.
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.