What is this?
Breaking the News will be the home for regular posts, podcasts, photos, reader-mail, guest essays, and other dispatches from James Fallows—that’s me.
I am a long-time reporter and writer of books and magazine articles. At different times I’ve been a public radio commentator; once a White House speechwriter; and for two years a newsmagazine editor. In the 1990s, I was part of a software-design team at Microsoft; I’ve taught at a number of universities; and since the 1990s I’ve been an active instrument-rated private pilot. Recently I was part of an HBO filmmaking team and am co-founder of a new NGO.
I am originally from small-town southern California—Redlands, in San Bernardino County. With my wife, Deb, and our family I’ve spent more than a dozen years living and reporting from outside the United States, mainly in Japan, Malaysia, and China, plus England, Australia, Ghana, and other parts of Africa. Within the United States we’ve lived for extended periods in Texas, California, and Washington state. Those years of travel have led to a number of books and have profoundly shaped my view of my home country. Deb and I are now based in Washington D.C.
My magazine writing has been mainly for The Atlantic, which I joined as a staff member in the late 1970s and for which I am now a contributing writer. A full list of my books is below. The most recent of them is Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, which grew from an Atlantic project and was co-authored with Deb Fallows. That was also the basis of our recent HBO film Our Towns and of our new Our Towns Civic Foundation.
Why Breaking the News ?
By far the most inflammatory of the books I’ve written, at least among my press colleagues, came out 25 years ago. It was called Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. Its argument was that the press could, should, and must do a better job in giving readers a realistic and honest view of their world. Otherwise, I argued, the press would suffer in commercial dimensions and other ways, and the public would find it harder and harder to have any realistic picture of the world. And this was back in a lost-innocence time when editors still imagined they could separate “news” from “entertainment.”
That’s the title I’ve chosen for this site as well. The scope here will be much broader than in the Breaking book—we’ll cover China, aviation, the technology business, political rhetoric, the military, plus a major ongoing focus on American renewal after the overlapping crises of the moment. There will be sections on books, and beer, and more, plus the journalism business. The tone and range of topics will be like that of my part of The Atlantic’s site in the blogging era.
And the purpose of these posts will be the same as in that book and other articles and dispatches: to work toward a clearer, more honest, less-frantic-but-more-urgent view of the history we are now living through.
As explained in my introductory post, what I have valued most, from my years of running personal websites from the 1990s onward, is the opportunity for ongoing connections, corrections, and mutual education from a community of readers around the world. “Reader mail,” “guest posts,” and essays and suggestions from people I haven’t known, have taught me as much over the years as formal interviews have. I’ve missed those features of the blogging era, and I will highlight them here.
In practical terms: It’s the way to keep up to date on posts from me—and many others who write in—about China, U.S. politics, beer, aviation, books, and other themes I’ve written about over the years.
In the longer term: It’s to become part of a growing community— community interested in informed, respectful, mutually education discussion on issues both global and local, both of-the-moment and with decades’ worth of implications.
For now, subscriptions and access to the website will be free. Eventually I will offer paid options, with special features that I will detail later on. Your (free) support and interest matter, as we build a community of readers and supporters. That’s why I ask you please to subscribe, which brings full access to the newsletter and website.
The site itself will work like an old-school blog, with posts appearing in real time, but we’ll learn and share new lessons along the way. The newsletters will come to your inbox. For those who remember the days of RSS feeds, you can think of newsletter updates as a counterpart. Either way you’ll be part of building a community of shared interests.
To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.
Here are books that I have written, the first of them co-authored with Deb Fallows, which give a key to our sensibility. Listed from most to least recent they are:
China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future
Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China
Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq
Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel
Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy
Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic System
More Like Us: Making America Great Again
Who Runs Congress (with Mark Green and David Zwick)