When does a newspaper story become bigger than the real people it is covering? Recently the Dharun Ravi webcam spy trial dwarfed all of its sad main characters. Mark Di Ionna is a Star Ledger columnist who covered the New Brunswick, New Jersey trial and was the first newsman to interview Dharun Ravi at his home in Plainsboro. DiIonna is also the author of the Last Newspaperman, a fictional novel about several high profile 1930s New Jersey stories that gave birth to tabloid journlism. It is Di Ianno’s personal statement about the trials and tribulations of watching rather than participating in life. His narrator is a reporter who happens upon an elderly newspaperman, Fred G. Haines, close to his death and eager to look back on his life with a young observer, a fresh pair of eyes.
Although all the cases covered in the novel occurred in New Jersey in the 1930s, they all made national and even international newspapers and radio outlets. The Lindberg Kidnapping case, the Hindenburg tragedy and the Morrow Castle fire and sinking off the coast of the Jersey shoreall were larger than life. Splashed across tabuloids, these catasrophes created heros and villianns, deserved or not by the actual personalities.
Di Ianno paints a grim picture of reporters that sneak in to morgues, peek in to windows and hound the victims of horrible crimes, whether they are distraught mothers, depressed hero aviators or victims of fires and sinking ships.
If you have any interest in Jersey history, wierd tales, or what its like to folllow ambulances or villians to get story de jour, DiIanno’s small town Jersey tale is compelling and deeply felt by a journalist with a conscience.
He will do a reading and a book signing at the Highland Park Public Library on Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM.