Newspaper Columnist’s Debut Novel Focuses On 1930s Lindbergh Baby Case

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MEDFORD—Lifetime newspaperman and award-winning columnist Mark Di Ionno’s fiction-writing debut is being hailed as “the Great American newspaper novel” by best-selling author Robin Gaby Fisher.

The Last Newspaperman,” released this week by Plexus Publishing, Inc., is a story about tabloid journalism in the 1920s and 30s, and how it created the crime-saturated and celebrity-obsessed media we have today.

“While much of the action is set in New Jersey in the 1930s, ‘The Last Newspaperman’ is not strictly a historical novel,” Di Ionno said. “My goal was to connect the past with the contemporary, sensationalist media that dominates the airwaves, newsstands, and internet.”

The novel’s fictional protagonist is Frederick Haines, a one-time star tabloid reporter for the New York Daily Mirror now nearing the end of his life. A young reporter on assignment listens with rapt attention as Haines gives him the back stories on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Hindenburg disaster, the deadly Morro Castle cruise ship fire, and the hysteria that followed Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

By his own admission, Haines is reckless with the facts, with little regard for the truth or the feelings of the people directly impacted by the stories he covers. “Victims are merely characters in a newspaper story,” he tells his interviewer.

Later in the novel, Haines pays the price for his reprehensible lack of ethics by losing a woman he loves, and it alters his view of his own work. He begins to lament “the paper-thin characters” he created, the half-truths he told, and the injured people left in the wake of his ambition.

The narrator and Haines extend their friendship beyond the first series of interviews, and during their conversations, the young reporter makes the link between Haines’s sensational cases and problems that define contemporary media. The Lindbergh kidnapping is about media intrusion into the private lives of celebrities. The Hindenburg explosion is exploited by a media mogul with a political agenda. The Morro Castle becomes a runaway false narrative making a national hero out of the man who, it was later discovered, set the fire. The “War of the Worlds” broadcast presages alarmist reactions to new technology.

“It is through the eyes of ruthless reporter Fred Haines that we see how modern media evolved from the remorseless, sensational journalism of the 1930s,” according to Fisher, author of the national bestseller, “The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception.”

In addition to his newspaper work, Di Ionno is the author of three award-winning nonfiction books. “New Jersey’s Coastal Heritage” and “A Guide to New Jersey’s Revolutionary War Trail” won the New Jersey Academic Alliance Award, which is judged by a consortium of librarians and historians. “Backroads, New Jersey” was named among the most notable New Jersey books (1995–2005) by the New Jersey Center for the Book.

Di Ionno is the father of six children, who reside with him in Mountain Lakes.

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