Richard Price

What is the state of journalism today?

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The pressure of turning a buck.

Richard Price

Richard Price is a novelist and screenwriter. His books explore the urban world in a gritty, realistic manner that has brought him considerable literary acclaim. Price grew up in a housing project in the northeast Bronx. He is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, has a Bachelor's degree from Cornell University, and an MFA from Columbia. He also did graduate work at Stanford.

Price has written eight novels. His first was The Wanderers (1974), a coming-of-age story set in the Bronx in 1962, written when Price was 24 years old. It was adapted into a movie in 1979 by director Philip Kaufman.  Price's other novels include Bloodbrothers (1976), Clockers (1992), Freedomland (1998), Samaritan (2003), and Lush Life (2008).

He has written numerous screenplays, of which the best known are The Color of Money (1986) for which he was nominated for an Oscar, Sea of Love (1989), Mad Dog and Glory (1992), Ransom (1996), Shaft (2000). He also wrote for the HBO series The Wire. He is often featured in cameo roles in the films he writes.

Price has written for The New York Times, Esquire Magazine, The New Yorker, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone and other publications. He lives in New York City with his family and has taught writing at Columbia, Yale, and New York University (NYU).

In 1999, Price received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

It’s kind of interesting because I’m not a journalist so I don’t really know much more than the average person except now, at the end of my book tour where I’ve been dealing with print media in 16 different cities, basically everybody’s complaining about the shrinking news hole. I could tell you at least in the culture pages, people are getting the same mandate that Season 5 had on The Wire, when they focused on the Baltimore Sun, where everybody’s saying do more with less. It’s all about trying to do twice as much with half the funds. The fact of the matter is you do less with less.

That’s the math of it. But it’s interesting because I really viscerally got that on the book tour, where there used to be separate book sections and now you’re lucky if you get a column for a book.The problem is that a lot of the papers are owned by bigger corporations, just like in publishing. A lot of the publishing houses are very small slices of the corporate pie and there’s much more pressure on turning over a buck than there is on indulging a possible break even or a loss simply because you’re doing good work and good work is important. The ownership is less and less personally involved with the reporters, with the subjects. It’s just about in Chicago, we own the Baltimore thing, 17 papers in cities we might not ever have been. We’re going to get rid of the people that you work with and you trust and we’re going to send in our guys, our specialists and these guys might not even know how to get a hamburger in that town and they’re running the paper.

The whole point of letting somebody go is not to make room for somebody but to let somebody go and that hole just shuts. They’re talking about The Village Voice just let go Deborah Jowett [ph?] the dance critic and it’s not to get a new dance critic; it’s to shut that down because it’s not making a buck or whatever.

Recorded On: 3/3/08