Brief encounters

Short reviews of Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability and Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir

Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability
By Penelope Muse Abernathy
The University of North Carolina Press
254 pages; $27.50 cloth;
$27.99 ebook

Penelope Muse Abernathy, formerly an executive at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and now Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, has undertaken to point the way forward for community newspapers. This is a field she generously defines as some 11,000 American publications, excluding only the big-time regional and metropolitan press. And she lays out a rocky road ahead.

In essence, she is prescribing measures that all but erase the old-time conception of a newspaper company as an enterprise that assembled and printed prose, pictures, and advertisements on paper and then delivered the product, copy by copy, to purchasers. Given the abrupt deflation of newspaper resources over the past decade or so, attributable to both the internet and recession, many newspapers are still struggling to find what they must do to survive in this strange new era. At the same time they seek to preserve their core role as a monitor and critic of the public sphere and society in general. It has become increasingly clear to them that the old ways will have to change.

In essence, she is prescribing measures that all but erase the old-time conception of a newspaper company.

Although Abernathy’s advice is sophisticated and detailed, what it boils down to is an urgent call for newspapers to cut back investments in the 19th-century factory-style operation—and specifically such “legacy” costs as presses and other heavy equipment. She urges creation of a new kind of institution that seamlessly combines print and digital into a product that is more diverse and flexible, with new styles of news presentation, advertising, and promotion that utilize digital and non-digital means. Moreover, she offers practical steps for how they can get there.

In formulating her advice, she has had not only the help of research resources and students at her university’s school of journalism but the co-operation of a varied group of community papers across the country. Each is going through its own process of conversion at its own pace and, so far, surviving, although nothing of course is guaranteed, given the hills and valleys of technology and the economy.

The book has an adjunct website containing a summary and a workbook, which offers exercises and samples of surveys and the like. The book lists the site as, but it was not available as of the end of May. However, it could be previewed at

Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir
By H.D.S. Greenway
Simon & Schuster
320 pages; $26

H.D.S. Greenway sees himself as a kind of spiritual descendant and brother of William Russell, who covered the Crimean and American Civil wars; G.W. Stevens, who reported from Khartoum; his own contemporary David Halberstam; and younger colleagues such as Dexter Filkins and Sebastian Junger. What all have in common is that they made their names covering wars. Greenway did his share, with stops in 96 countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

He arrived at his first war in 1967, when he was sent to Vietnam as a correspondent for Time. His life to that point, as he describes it, had been comfortable, fulfilling the destiny of a young man of sterling Massachusetts ancestry—Yale, marriage, Oxford, and then Henry Luce, to whom a man of Greenway’s ilk was catnip.

After Vietnam, where he was wounded in the leg during the Tet offensive and, trying to save a wounded marine, earned a Bronze star, he moved from one contested site to the next along the edges of American empire—first in southeast Asia, later in the Middle East. In the early 1970s he left Time for The Washington Post and ultimately moved on to The Boston Globe, where he held a series of major editorial positions and occasionally still visited the battlefield.

Considering that the era he recalls is now growing remote, Greenway tells his story with freshness and color, and becoming touches of humility. For example, he notes frankly that, like the correspondent Beverly Deepe Keever (Brief Encounters, July/August 2013) and others, he had employed Pham Xuan An, who turned out to be also working for the Communists. Like Keever, he continued to regard An kindly. Nor does he portray himself as a titan of journalism, as more than a few memoirists have. He comes across as neither a war-lover nor a war-hater; he was just a journalist who was there.

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James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.