The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman

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Praise for "The Fine Print"

Vivid Personal Dispatches From the Heyday of Print Journalism
Veteran journalist Jack Schwartz started his career in the late 1950s.  His passionately penned memoir spans the world of New York City newspapers from his first job as a copy boy at the Mirror, the Hearst flagship paper, to the New York Times. . . . With a storyteller’s verve, Schwartz meticulously describes these positions and their associated historical moments. . . . Schwartz’s prose exudes a palpable affinity for the written word, and his text recalls the days of bustling newsrooms where “everyone seemed to be smoking, drinking or growling—some simultaneously.” Readers interested in how the pre-Internet newspaper business was run in the mid-to-late 20th century will find Schwartz’s memoir educational as well as charmingly anecdotal. A fond, nostalgic celebration of a decades-long career in media.

Excerpts from review of “The Fine Print” selected by Kirkus Indie Editors to be featured in
Kirkus Reviews, issue of Aug. 15, 2015

A priceless memoir, this invocation of a Lost World replete with journalistic dinosaurs and opportunistic pterodactyls is as entertaining as it is shrewd. The author has been there, has seen it all, knew and remembers everything about newspapers, writers and the publishing business, and the result is an invaluable primer on editing, running a book review section, and staying human in the face of every imaginable challenge. Along with the crisp wit of the prose, what makes this book so endearing is the author's handling of hindsight, as Jack Schwartz looks back on his many decisions, indecisions and the passing parade with self-mockery, perspective and wisdom.

--- Phillip Lopate, author, most recently of the personal essay collection "Portrait Inside My Head"

In the second half of the 20th Century, print journalism found its Golden Age. Jack Schwartz was one of the unsung participants, mainly as an editor who polished copy and helped shape coverage at some of America's most important newspapers, among them Newsday and (especially) The New York Times. He doesn't glamorize or sentimentalize but provides an unflinching, inside scoop on the ambitions and foibles of the people who molded the news they saw fit to print. Written with perspicacity and wry humor, recalling high moments and low, Schwartz's personal and professional journey memorably evokes a remarkable era and its cast of colorful characters. 

--- Julie Salamon, author of "The Devil's Candy" and "Wendy and The Lost Boys"

Jack Schwartz's elegantly written memoir is a chronicle of New York journalism in the second half of the 20th Century. If you want him to know what it was like, who the personalities were that help people that Runyonesque world and the fun and foibles of putting out a daily newspaper -- both tabloid and broadsheet -- Jack's memoir is a must read. Where didn't he work and apply his canny, mischievous eye for fine observation and portraiture. An important contribution to the history of our profession.

--- Joseph Berger, metropolitan reporter, The New York Times, and author of "Displaced Persons"

With a literary voice and a reporter's keen eye, Jack Schwartz brings vividly to life the newsrooms of the second half of the 20th century. It was a heady time for newspapers and the author was there taking it all in. With a million wonderful stories, but not a shred of romanticism, he evokes the ink-stained wretches -- and heroes -- of that era. Sadly (or not so sadly) that world is gone, but it lives on in the pages of this engaging book.

--- Ari L. Goldman, professor of journalism at Columbia University and author of
"The Search for God at Harvard" and  "The Late Starters Orchestra"

Jack Schwartz's memoirs take you back to a wondrous age of newspapers before they were decimated by the digital revolution. He spent almost 48 years working with all sorts of characters who called themselves newspaper men and women. Some reported, some did rewrite, some were news assistants, some took pictures, and some edited. With great anecdotes and superb writing Jack, shows that "editing" is not a singular term, but a complex one that requires all kinds of skills, judgment and talent. He introduces us to many of these characters, is free with praise where deserved and criticism where warranted. He pulls no punches. Our paths crossed many years ago when he was a young reporter, then an up-and-coming editor at Newsday, and I can personally attest to his honesty,truthfulness and integrity. The fast pace of Jack's narrative shows how well he has mastered the craft about which he writes. 

--- Tony Insolia, former Editor, Newsday

Missing Old Jack Schwartz
If there was a Hall of Fame for unheralded genius in print journalism, Jack Schwartz would be the first inductee.

All you have to do is read his memoir of 40 years as a desk editor on New York newspapers to understand why he is a legend in his own time and why what is missing from the world of communication is editors like Schwartz, who were the heart of good print journalism when it was still alive. The first hint is how easy great writing is to read. It is amazing how a combination of intelligence, education and experience with well-written sentences can transform the memoir of an old coot editor into a seductive page turner you cannot put down.

From the story of "Adler's hat" to the saga of "Elvis Mitchell" 377 pages later, Fine Print, the life of this old desk man, is pure delight. Not only will it make you miss writer/editors like Schwartz, it will make you miss the important institution of democracy to which he dedicated his marvelous life. And if you are fortunate enough to live where there is still a good newspaper, you will want to go on line and order a subscription.

--- Jim Squires was editor in chief of The Chicago Tribune, city editor of the
Nashville Tennessean and a Nieman Fellow

A Bygone Gotham
Two new memoirs evoke an earlier New York.

Around the time that Morris Dickstein was writing for “The Spectator,” Jack Schwartz was at City College, writing and editing The City College Campus while also working as a copy boy at The Daily Mirror, a tabloid that was then the flagship Hearst newspaper in New York. Over the next half century — through “the heyday of American print journalism” — he worked at the Daily News, the New York Post, Newsday, the Long Island Press and The New York Times, as well as the Paris Herald-Tribune.

His early days at the Mirror, as he recounts in “The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman,” were peopled with Damon Runyon-esque characters, with lots of shouting, smoking and growling. It wasn’t uncommon for reporters and the men of the rewrite bank to keep a bottle of booze on their desks. One memorable night, he had to fetch a photographer from a nearby bar and race over to Radio City with him to photograph Marilyn Monroe.

Schwartz always has a great story, and he shares his insider’s view with great wit, understated erudition and deep insight. He worked his way up from copy boy, and served as reporter on many beats in newsrooms more dignified than the Mirror, creator and editor of a new book section at Newsday, and worked the “backfield” all over The New York Times. Along the way, he befriended the linotype operators, copy-cutters and truck drivers.

Most of his career was spent as a “deskman,” an intermediary between the reporter and reader — assigning stories, supervising and shaping coverage, rewriting and polishing other people’s copy to the highest standards that they would be pleased to call their own.

“It was not a sentimental education in Flaubert’s terms,” he tells The Jewish Week. “At the beginning, it was a learning experience, and after a while a teaching experience, when I knew enough to impart whatever wisdom I had acquired to others. “

Schwartz, who retired from The New York Times in 2005, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and an International Affairs Reporting Fellow at Columbia and has taught at the Columbia School of Journalism and NYU, and served as a writing mentor at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is a most affable guide and a terrific writer. Even as more news is read on computer screens from a range of sources, this is an important story of the people who continue to shape the news that’s fit to print. 

Sandee Brawarsky, Culture Editor, The Jewish Week,  Issue of Dec. 30, 2015 Entire Article