Monday, October 15, 2012

Media Biz Gyrations: Dave Astor's First-Person Account

Dave Astor’s book Comic (and Column) Confessional is an industry history with a twist. It expertly captures the gyrations of the print media business through the prism of its author’s career. Dave worked at Editor & Publisher magazine for 25 years, mainly covering the newspaper syndication beat. Syndication includes cartoons and columns, so his book is full of quotes by creators ranging from Dear Abby to Gary Larson of “The Far Side” comic fame. Fittingly, it embraces advice and absurdity in equal measure.

Dave and I were Rutgers College classmates and fellow reporters for the daily paper there (Dave became editor-in-chief). We hadn’t crossed paths since graduation day. He describes himself as painfully shy. His book, in part, is about how he got over “the esteem thing” (his phrase). I for one was glad to learn that he is essentially the same quiet, deep guy I knew back then.

In 2008 Dave was writing for E&P’s shrinking print edition. He was also cranking out upwards of six Web pieces a day and answering 1,000 emails a week. You can guess how the story ends: he is one of 20 employees laid off in a most ungracious but all too typical downsizing. He describes this workplace drama, and many others, with accuracy and barbed wit. I nodded my head often at observations like: “Newspapers made things worse for themselves by offering content that was often staid and boring—whether in print or on their Web sites.”

Yes! I believe that newspapers are (or were) the "first draft of history" and I always buy the local daily in every city to which my corporate history work takes me. So many papers have traded their vital "localness" for a surfeit of wire service news. Syndicated cartoonists and columnists are on the losing end, too.

Woven through the media history is a personal memoir which I found very affecting (you don’t need to have known Dave as a young man to be touched by it). Dave describes the death of his first daughter, which involved medical malpractice, with great tenderness and justified anger. We see him blossoming as a parent, raising a second daughter, surviving a divorce, and finding love and parenthood again in a second marriage. I particularly appreciate that he does not proselytize about the joys and sorrows of having kids; instead, he lets us experience it through his eyes, and he doesn't diss people who haven't had children.  

Today Dave blogs for the Huffington Post (unpaid; seems grossly unfair, but it’s his choice), writes a humor column for the Montclair Times (NJ), and does other freelance work. Comic (and Column) Confessional, published by Xenos Press, is available directly from Dave or on Amazon.