03 November 2020

When News Gathering and Entertainment Values Collide

It seems appropriate on this Election Day to end all Election Days to write about a short story I have in the current (November/December) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: "Eat, Drink, and Be Murdered." It's a whodunit. Not what you'd call a political story at all. But it involves a newspaper and its role in our democracy, and, sadly, these days that has become a political topic.

The story is about the owner of a small city newspaper and the lengths she'll go to try to save the paper because she believes in the important role journalists play in our society as a check on government--national and local. I grew up believing in that role. While reporters sometimes make mistakes, because that's what humans do, I believe most of them are good people who strive for accuracy and fairness, sometimes risking their lives to share the news. It breaks my heart that so many people these days think otherwise, that they don't believe what reputable news organizations report and repudiate journalists as the enemy. They are anything but. Journalists play a vital role in our democracy.

This negative mindset toward journalism is not the only reason many newspapers are struggling these days and so many others have closed. The advent of the internet has, as we all know, led many people to seek their news online, often without wanting to pay for that privilege. But news gathering isn't free. Even if all newspapers went completely digital so that the cost of paper and printing could be saved, there still would be reporters to pay, as well as editors, graphic artists, photographers, the people who work in advertising and composition and circulation and probably other departments I'm not thinking of right now. 

I appreciate the newspapers that offer online editions and allow people to check out the occasional article for free. But I also understand why newspapers have firewalls and only allow you to view a limited number of stories per month without paying. Democracy has its price, and one way to help keep democracy going is to support newspapers, which shed sunlight on government and remind politicians that they work for us, not the other way around. You support newspapers by paying for your news. And you support democracy and the First Amendment by treating journalists with respect.

Now I'll get off my soapbox and tie this back in to my story. In "Eat, Drink, and Be Murdered," Meghan, the owner of that newspaper in a small Virginia city, is facing the same financial crunch that so many papers are these days. She's come up with what she hopes will be a great solution: running snarky restaurant reviews. She thinks they're all in good fun, that there's no such thing as bad publicity--for the newspaper or the restaurants. The reviews will encourage readership and advertisers, she predicts, who'll be attracted by the increase in circulation. And she's right. There is an increase in circulation after the new reviews start to run, and advertising grows too. But there are also some things Meghan didn't expect: angry restaurant owners, a bomb threat, and ... of course, murder. It's a difficult lesson for Meghan to learn, that easy solutions can have steep, unexpected costs, especially when news gathering and entertainment values collide.

This issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine can be purchased from the usual sources, including bookstores and newsstands. If you subscribe to the print version, they'll mail a copy to your home every other month. You also can read the magazine digitally. Individual copies and subscriptions can be purchased for your Kindle and other types of e-readers. Magazines need support these days, just like newspapers. So if you have some dollars to spare and would like to bring some regular entertainment into your world, I encourage you to consider a subscription to AHMM and/or its sister publication, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for yourself, a friend, and/or family member this holiday season.

If you've read "Eat, Drink, and Be Murdered," I hope you loved it. If you haven't, I hope you get the magazine and read it right away. But not before you vote. If you haven't voted yet, please do that first. Then tomorrow, go buy your local newspaper, read the election results that have come in so far, and maybe even take out a subscription to the paper. Newspapers need your support to stay afloat. Our democracy needs their spotlight to stay afloat too.


  1. A fine piece. People who tout the internet for news tend to forget that real people are at work to collect the information and that there is a difference between typing out whatever seems interesting and doing the hard work of collecting facts and evidence.

  2. My subscription copy hasn’t arrived yet, Barb, but I’m looking forward to the stories by you, Michael Bracken, and others. Meanwhile, just like the country needs every SleuthSayer’s vote and (most) newspapers deserve our respect, AHMM and EQMM need and deserve our support. Please do subscribe, Sleuthsayers, and help keep these publications that have given so much to our favorite genre viable!

  3. I too am waiting on my subscription copy (the post office has been running a little slow these days...) - but I totally agree. A free and independent press is necessary for a healthy democracy, and we all need to support it.

  4. Barb, I used to buy AHMM & EQMM at the local Borders and/or B&N in order to support those bookstores, but Borders went out of business and B&N became irregular in when they carried those magazines. So, I went to print subscription for both. I do subscribe to my local print newspaper. There's something about holding a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

  5. I look forward to reading your newest story, Barb. I used to work for an online newspaper & quit because the owner stopped paying me, the other employees, hosting service, etc. The paper didn't charge anyone to read the articles & maybe it should have, because apparently the advertising revenue wasn't enough.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and commenting.

    And Eve, yes, the post office does seem to be running a little slowly ... my copies of this month's AHMM and EQMM are still en route.

    R.T., I pay for my news online. I used to be a reporter, and I remember how excited I was to read the paper every morning (especially when I was in it), but as time went on, paper quality or printing quality or both must have declined, because before I'd finish even one section, my hands would be filthy with newsprint ink. That's not a problem when I read online.

    Elizabeth, I hope you enjoy the story. And I'm sorry that online paper you worked for went under. Journalism is a hard business.

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