the story from the ASJA Monthly, the official publication of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.


Q&A: Steve Weinberg

By Barbara DeMarco-Barrett | From the April 2014 Issue

Over the years, former ASJA Monthly book reviewer Steve Weinberg has compiled a collection of novels that feature journalists as protagonists. The collection numbers in the thousands, and he loans them out at the University of Missouri Journalism School Library.

How did this wonderful collection/obsession begin?

As a lifelong author of magazine features and nonfiction books, I enjoy reading fiction for escape. But I’m not wired to ever “escape” totally. As a result, many of the novels I read feature a journalist, and many of the novelists are employed as journalists. I figured from the start that I could learn about my craft from fictional accounts as well as factual accounts. So, I started reading what I call “journalism novels,” and then I started collecting them.

What are the criteria for a book to join the collection?

The only criterion for joining the collection is a novel written in the English language. Yes, I have learned two other languages. But reading for enjoyment in those other languages feels like work, because translating never comes easily to me.

Do you have them categorized within this main category?

If I could find the time, I would categorize the novels in the collection in a variety of ways: gender of the journalist/protagonist, print journalist/broadcast journalist, etc. But I have never carved out the time. One of my friends who taught at the University of Missouri Journalism School, where the collection is housed and available to the public, assigned novels with female journalist protagonists to a class focusing on women in journalism. Furthermore, master’s degree candidates and doctoral candidates who have mined the collection from all over the United States and all over the world, have sliced the books in a variety of ways.

What’s your favorite journalism novel, and why?

Choosing a favorite from thousands of journalism novels is difficult. But if you push me, I’d have to choose A Fly on the Wall by Tony Hillerman. An experienced journalist himself, Hillerman wrote that novel before he became renowned for novels set on Native American lands. I never knew Hillerman personally before he died. In 1989, however, I named his novel as my favorite in a front-page essay for The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Unbidden, Hillerman sent me an autographed copy of A Fly on the Wall.

You’ve been a book critic for some time. Want to talk about the worst?

As an experienced book reviewer, I could pan quite a few of the novels in the collection. My main criticism is tied to the melodrama. Nobody mandates that fiction must be grounded in reality. Still, I tire of journalism novels that feature reporters and editors becoming involved in the sensational solutions to murders, solutions that might involve high-speed car chases and engaging in sexual intercourse with sleazy characters.

What about your favorite movie made from a novel about a journalist?

No, thank you. I’m not much of a moviegoer. And to the extent I attend movies, I learned decades ago to avoid movies derived from novels—about journalism or otherwise—I have read with enjoyment. Call me over-sensitive, but I become upset when moviemakers take what I believe to be unwise liberties with novels.

Do novels about journalism have anything to teach journalists about being a journalist?

The best journalism novels have indeed taught me useful lessons about practicing the craft. Anybody who readsA Fly on the Wall, for example, should become inspired to dig into the files of obscure executive branch state agencies to uncover scandal.

The following is a list of some of Steve Weinberg’s favorite journalism novels, in alphabetical order, according to author. He says he would have added lots more if space permitted.

Daniel AkstSt. Burl’s Obituary
Venise BerryAll of Me
Mary BreastedI Shouldn’t Be Telling You This
Joel BrinkleyThe Circus Master’s Mission
Edna BuchananSuitable for Framing
Jan BurkeDear Irene
Michael ConnellyThe Scarecrow
Robert DaleyThe Whole Truth
John DarntonBlack and White and Dead All Over
Jeffrey FrankThe Columnist
Ward JustA Family Trust
William KennedyThe Ink Truck
Vince KoehlerRainy North Woods
Julie KramerMissing Mark
Laura LippmanCharm City
Emily ListfieldWaiting to Surface
Joyce Carol OatesMissing Mom
Mike SagerDeviant Behavior
Peg TyreIn the Midnight Hour
Elaine VietsThe Pink Flamingo Murders

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