However, Lights scrupulous adherence to the dictates of objective reporting style deserves a considered analysis. Light combines a brief history of the newspaper itself with what, in later chapters, becomes a personal accounting of his time with The News. While someone unfamiliar with Buffalo and its newspaper might find the history interesting, it seems to me that in detailing his own personal stories, Light and his readers would have been better served by a separate memoir.
In writing their own stories, newspaper reporters may take advantage of this unfamiliar freedom to reveal deeply personal narratives as in Pete Hamills A Drinking Life, or they may attempt to give their readers a front row seat in the corridors of power as in The Times of My life and My Life With the Times, by Max Frankel, but Light is perhaps too self-effacing, and diplomatic to reveal enough of himself to carry this book as a personal narrative. At the same time he is too much the company man to reveal the inner workings of the wheelhouse.
On the personal side, both Lights generation, and certainly, the culture of the Buffalo News encourage a taciturn approach. Many of his forebears at The News that are portrayed here also possess exteriors of leather. Still, Lights tightly controlled, just the facts maam delivery sometimes obscures his characters humanity. After recounting the tale of Managing Editor Paul Nevilles untimely death at age forty nine, and Lights own promotion as a result, were introduced to Lights staff. Four paragraphs after his arrival in Lights narrative, and after thirty years on the job at The News, a key assistant, Foster Spencer, is dead. When News editor Bill Malley comes on to the scene in the next paragraph, you want to warn him. Sure enough, he dies in a car crash four paragraphs later.
Its not that Light doesnt care about these people. He praises their work as he does with that of most of his colleagues and therein lies another problem. Light even takes time to acknowledge a pack mule like Marcia Harasack who were told was a, very capable part-time assistant. The point is that the book is more of a farewell to the troops than a personal memoir. Which brings us to conclude that this is a book with a very specific audience.
This book is clearly intended for the longtime Buffalo News reader and Light makes no attempt to vary the writing style he has employed during his lengthy career there. Many people who grew up reading The News will enjoy this book. The chapters dealing with the early history of the paper are especially interesting. However, a book about The Buffalo News could certainly be written that would appeal to a much wider audience.
For those who want the lowdown on political influence and the shaping of public opinion, Light offers very few modern examples. True, there are some behind-the-scenes details such as when Warren Buffett faced down Courier Express Attorney Fredrick Furth in court, but you can read about that and other Buffett stories in greater detail in biographies of Buffett by Andrew Kilpatrick and Roger Lowenstein's Warren Buffett, The Making of an American Capitalist, (which I prefer).
Stanford Lipsy's elite Group of Eighteen- the power brokers who have had the greatest influence on Buffalo's planning and policy in the last quarter century make an almost comic appearance on page 222 and after a breezy synopsis, promptly disappear.
Perhaps, the most telling vignette to me was in an exchange Light had with the late Kate Robinson Butler when she served as the Publisher of The News. She demanded that Mr. Light pull a planned serialization of My Life With Jacqueline Kennedy because it was written by Jackie's secretary. Light tells us, ...she (Butler) would never want any of her hired help to write a book about her private affairs and that it was reprehensible to publish such a book.
As the former Managing Editor of The Buffalo News, Light was among the most knowledgeable of the hired help. In this book though, he hasn't revealed any private affairs concerning the brokering of power by current Publisher Stanford Lipsey and heirs apparent Warren Colville, and Gerald Goldberg. Burning Down My Master's House this ain't. Then again, Jayson Blair didn't light any great bonfire of knowledge about the powers that be, either.
This book is a good contribution for the time capsule The News seems to be creating for itself in this, its 125th year. Whether The News or Buffalo will exist for another one hundred and twenty five years will depend largely on whether The News chooses to maintain its current, destructive and reactionary editorial course or not - after all, TV news propaganda is far more cost effective. The Story Behind the Buffalo News
By Murray B. Light
Review-By John McMahon
The market for journalistic memoirs is just about as skewed as the rest of the publishing industrys offerings these days.
For example, an autobiographical book about journalistic fraud by a junior reporter at a major paper, like Jayson Blairs Burning Down My Masters House, commands a major advance in addition to countless hours of free national media exposure, while the workmanlike effort of a humble veteran newspaper editor like Murray Lights From Butler to Buffett, The Story Behind The Buffalo News, garners yawns.