The Last Newspaperman

In his much-anticipated first novel, award-winning New Jersey Star-Ledger reporter Mark Di Ionno explores the roots of tabloid journalism and the rise of celebrity media culture.

Jersey in the ’30s was Fred Haines’s beat, though it was hardly worthy of the reporter who’d scooped the Ruth Snyder story back in ’27. “The most famous Daily News cover ever,” Haines bragged. His photo showed Snyder strapped to the electric chair. “Respectable” papers denounced it as vulgar, but it sold millions of copies and cemented Haines’s reputation as the go-to “tabloid guy” just as celebrity worship was becoming an American obsession.

But that was before Haines had the bad sense to publicly insult an even faster-rising media star named Walter Winchell. Haines wound up on the graveyard shift at the Daily Mirror, covering the most trivial stories his editor could dredge up. And Jersey.

“Strictly Sticksville,” he said, remembering a cold March night in 1932. That was the night he drove down to rural Hopewell, near Trenton, oblivious that the story of the century was about to break under his byline. The infant son of Charles Lindbergh had been kidnapped, and Haines was about to become part of a media frenzy unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

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