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Rachman novel nails hypothetical death of a newspaper
'The Imperfectionists,' by Tom Rachman

Is print media dying?

It is a burning question that newspaper executives struggle to answer plainly these days as their industry faces all-time low circulation, declining sales and readership lost to internet sources and 24-hour cable channels for news.

Judging from observations between the number of years I worked as a journalist and now, the changing media spectrum indicates it's a possibility, perhaps now more than ever. I see more and more newspapers scrambling to establish a Web presence, or financially-strapped ones folding their print operations completely. Being a bit of an old-fashionista when it comes to reading I genuinely dread the day when I won't get a paper delivered to my door, or be able to read a dog-eared copy nestled in the corner of my favorite coffee shop. So why, one might ask, would I be interested in a fictional portrayal of a long-running newspaper doomed to certain death? Simple curiosity, I suppose. 

It was quite ironic that I immediately picked up a copy of author Tom Rachman's latest novel, 'The Imperfectionists,' and read it with great interest. A fictional portrayal saddening, yet witty enough to not feel too depressing, Rachman's book I mostly sought for a bit of persective on the subject (a hypothetical one, at least) on how the death of a newspaper might play out in reality. I must say, Rachman's vision of a paper struggling for survival when it fails to meet the demands of modern technology.

The book chronicles the offbeat lives of an English language news outlet's staff, who are based in Rome and are struggling to stay afloat, half a century from the day it was founded by an ambitious American millionaire. Originally established during the golden age of print to become the premium in international news to readers throughout the world, the paper has fallen into hard times in the 21st century, produced with out-of-date equipment in shabby facilities, job cutbacks and refusals from managment to produce a Web site despite pleadings from the chief editors. Not helping thee matters is the ragtag editorial and executive staff, each colorfully depicted in their own chapters. All seem too consumed in their own personal dramas and affairs to notice, or care, that their jobs are in dire circumstances and the paper doomed to a certain death. There is an old-school copy editor whose stickler to grammar disgruntles all members of the staff. And the editor in chief dodges questions about the fate of the paper while she flirts with starting an affair with a former Italian beau. A sour-grapes senior reporter believes managment is moments away from firing her, though it never happens, and the absentee publishing heir seems more interested in companionship from his basset hound than attending board meetings with staff.

Each individual's account of the situation is humourously depicted with the neurotic charm and zeal that's typical in a creative workplace setting, each representing a thread in a once-splendid tapestry that's now coming apart at the seams.

NOIR'S TWO CENTS: A perfect novel about the glaring imperfections of technology when it becomes outdated.