Lone anchor resists TV slime

BREAKING NEWS

By Robert MacNeil

Doubleday

372 pp., $24.95

Good news!

Robert MacNeil, that icon of responsible TV journalism, has written a pungent and pointed novel about a responsible TV journalist trying to hold back the network news slide toward infotainment. The hero of "Breaking News," Grant Monroe (picture a newscaster like, say, Robert MacNeil), is a top TV anchor, struggling to resist the "if it bleeds, it leads" pressure to feature every sensational tragedy or scandal.

Can Monroe uphold his standards? Why is this well-known, top-rank professional struggling with self-doubt? Should he get a facelift to forestall any equation of "seasoned and mature" with "out of date?" (More here than you may want to know about facelifts.)

Will his network hire a slick and unscrupulous woman to do an audience-grabbing sob-sister TV magazine? Who is the slangy Internet gossip, Hollygo Lightly, who reports inside dirt before anyone else can dig it up?

A well-paced, engaging read, "Breaking News" also makes a strong case for serious TV reporting. MacNeil adeptly weaves the lines and varied voices of his story into a narrative that will keep the reader tuned in all the way to the predictable but nicely tied-up end.

* Ruth Johnstone Wales is the Monitor's Page 1 editor.

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