It’s hard to argue with Sullivan’s news judgment ... You might expect Sullivan’s book, Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life, to be a reminiscence of her professional triumphs and a reflection on their larger meaning for the industry ... So why...is the news business in such a state of disarray and disrespect? And how does it get its voice of authority back? Those are the questions that haunt the pages of Newsroom Confidential. The title suggests a gossipy tell-all, and there’s a heaping dollop of that ... If Sullivan started out intending to write a memoir, she ended up with a manifesto. This is a book about the role of the press in a democracy that’s in grave jeopardy ... Sullivan attributes the Times’ fixation on scoring Clinton exposés to an error in news judgment: Assuming that Trump couldn’t win and Clinton would be the next president, the paper reserved its most gimlet-eyed scrutiny for her. For those outside the news business, post-mortems like this should be the most important revelation in Newsroom Confidential ... Sullivan struggles to end her book on a note of gratitude and positivity. But her anecdote arguing for the redemptive power of feature writing rings more than a little hollow ... [A] discomfiting book.
Sullivan has avoided the traps for the most part, combining highlights and lowlights of her glass-ceiling-defying career with an opinionated but fair and accessible tour of the big debates roiling the 'reality-based press' ... The most urgent question she reviews is how to cover openly anti-democratic politicians ... She makes little effort to disguise her left-leaning politics, and while she makes her arguments clearly and with evidence, it’s difficult to identify an opinion that would cause much discomfort in reliably Democratic ZIP codes on the Upper West Side ... Her indictment of the newsroom leadership’s decision-making is often persuasive, but in the era of Facebook and Fox News, when trust in mainstream journalism is in sharp decline, as Sullivan documents elsewhere in her book, it’s hard to accept that The Times’s coverage...could swing an election decided in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.
A brisk—often too brisk—combination of professional memoir and essay in media criticism that juxtaposes Sullivan’s journalistic autobiography with expanded thoughts on some of the most central themes and topics of her media columns ... But the very qualities that made Sullivan such a rare success in the field of media journalism...pose challenges to the type of book that she has written in Newsroom Confidential. Sullivan has a kind of professional reticence, a hesitancy about centering herself in either narrative or analysis, that probably is a good quality in a reporter, but which renders an autobiographical narrative opaque ... Moments of pathos, absurdity, humor, and triumph break through on occasion ... It’s hard to avoid concluding that in these lacunae, something essential was lost, something that might explain how and why Margaret Sullivan became Margaret Sullivan ... One...senses a hesitance to burn certain bridges, and I couldn’t put down the suspicion that some punches were pulled ... Yet if sometimes frustrating, Newsroom Confidential is never boring; I blew through my first reading in a single sitting. It is a well-organized digest of Sullivan’s last decade or so as a critic of the news media.