Follow Here To Purchase Leaving Story Avenue - My journey from the projects to the front page

Author: Paul LaRosa

Publisher: Park Slope Publishing

ISBN: 9780983796305

As traditional newspapers struggle to survive in the brave new digital world, Luddites and old-school print proponents will tell you about everything that we’ll lose as a society if the good old-fashioned daily newspaper disappears from stoops and sidewalks across the country. This list ranges from the reassuringly low-maintenance nature of the product (read it, fold it, leave it on the bus – and if you lose it you’re only out four bits) to the tactile satisfaction of fresh newsprint between your fingers.

As for me, I’m most worried about the loss of stories.

No, not the news and feature stories that fill the newspaper -- we should still have plenty of those online. The stories I lament losing are the ones that come from the newsroom itself, a seedy-yet-civically-salubrious sub-culture that sprang up in the early part of the 20th century and, for about 100 years, has fueled innumerable journalistic tales of middling heroism and borderline debauchery. Throughout their existence, newsrooms have been host to some of the most colorful, iconoclastic, and just plain weird members of the professional working class. Most newsrooms teeter precariously between high-minded democratic idealism and low-brow alcohol-fueled cynicism. As any veteran of these literary asylums can attest, there’s no other place like ‘em.

Fortunately, many of those scarred souls who forged their fortune in this Byzantine world have survived mostly unscathed – but with a load of stories to tell. Such is definitely the case with Paul LaRosa, whose breezy memoir of the 1970s New York City newspaper culture, Leaving Story Avenue, captures the sense of adventure behind kitschy tabloid headlines and clichéd phrases such as “Get Me Re-Write!”

LaRosa’s memoir covers more than just his years at the New York Daily News, which he got to know first as a copy boy and then later as an award-winning reporter. Leaving Story Avenue offers ample anecdotes about LaRosa’s upbringing in a Bronx housing project and his quest to survive a Catholic education, all retold in the conversationally alluring style expected from an accomplished feature writer. No mater what the subject, his stories are mostly engaging and finely-spun (brief digressions outside of New York, such as a trip to Yosemite National Park, are amusing but lack the knowing bite of the Gotham-bounded narratives.) It’s his glimpse inside the beating heart of the Daily News that will, I imagine, strike most readers as the high point of the book.

The newspaper world has always made a great subject for the movies and LaRosa’s book makes clear why that’s so. From the copy boys “on the bench” reading Thomas Pynchon novels to impress their higher-ups to the police reporter who wanders into crime scenes pretending to be a detective “from the downtown branch,” LaRosa’s Daily News is filled with enough characters to populate any Preston Sturges screwball comedy. LaRosa is a good reporter: he paints each scene with just enough detail to bring home its humor and its pathos.

Alas, as his book also makes clear, that era of dysfunctional dynamism has all but disappeared. The “modern” newsroom, with its no-smoking policies, sexual-harassment workshops, and computer terminals probably has its stories to tell as well. But it’s just not the same. And while I love reading the news online, and I welcome the convenience of a perpetually updated edition right at my fingertips, I miss the days when those fingertips carried the proof of my encounter, a smudged souvenir of a profession as sullied as the world it covered.

Follow Here To Purchase Leaving Story Avenue - My journey from the projects to the front page