Blink Book Review #5: Newsroom Confidential – Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life

June 29, 2023

By Reba Hull Campbell

As a lifelong news junky, I love reading about the machinations of a newsroom – How do news stories actually get to the front page? Who decides if the tone of a news story is right? When do reporters know when they have gathered enough information to accurately report the truth?

My interest in the news gathering process is what prompted me to pick up “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life” off the shelf at Litchfield Books recently. The title and cover art could lead a bookstore browser to assume this book is an intriguing work of fiction. However, a quick glance at the dust cover describes real-life backroom stories written by Margaret Sullivan who was the long-time public editor at the New York Times and later media columnist at the Washington Post.

Most newspapers in markets the size of South Carolina don’t have a public editor. This is a role many large news organizations have on staff to provide an outsider’s perspective and independent accountability to the reporting process. It’s an interesting concept in today’s brawling media landscape.

Sullivan’s book tells the story of her rise through the ranks in the newsroom at her hometown newspaper in Buffalo, NY, through her roles at two of the nation’s largest newspapers. She chronicles tangling with sexist editors and making more than a few mistakes along the way.

As the Times’ public editor, she helped readers understand why the paper made certain decisions about coverage, while at the same time, she challenged the paper’s leadership on the definition of “objectivity” in news gathering. She raised issues around coverage of high-powered politicians, like Hillary Clinton, and questioned long-established news operations, like Fox News.

From her time as the media columnist at the Washington Post, Sullivan writes of her deep dive into the rise of Donald Trump, critiques the shifting ground of “Big Journalism,” and examines the growing discord in large newsrooms around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion – both in news coverage and hiring practices.

For anyone who has newspaper ink in their blood, a fascination with how the news machine works, or an interest in a front row seat to watch the evolution of “big journalism,” this book is for you.


In 2022, Reba Campbell set out to get off the screens and back to books for the summer. She set a goal of reading a book a week. Her accountability was writing short Blink Book Reviews (so short you can read them in a blink). John Reba’s Blink Book Review FB group to follow along for the 2023 summer series. Reba can be reached at [email protected].