For a time, I was proud to have my Crime Beat column appear in Philadelphia Weekly alongside the contributions of veteran newspaper columnist Stu Bykofsky.
Davis: Why did you write Press Card?
Bykofsky: Two reasons. 1- A personal challenge to myself to see if I could write something that long. “Cats Are Supermodels” was a decade earlier, nonfiction, and about 20% as long as “Press Card.” 2- Wanted revenge on some editors.
Davis: How would you describe the novel?
Bykofsky: I call it “faction” -- fact wrapped in fiction. It pulls back the curtains on how print really works, in a fast-paced, humorous manner.
Davis: Is Claude Shelby in any way autobiographical?
Bykofsky: Claude Shelby is not Stu Bykofsky, but some of
Stu Bykofsky is in Claude Shelby. Claude is somewhat anti-union; Stu is very pro-union.
Shelby chews gum, Stu never had, and Stu was never a political reporter.
Davis: Is the Philadelphia Free Press based on the Daily News or the Inquirer?
Bykofsky: The Free Press is a tabloid, like the News, and, honestly, the novel is a roman a clef, using the News as a template. You know the adage -- write what you know.
Davis: Are the other characters, especially the editors, based on real people?
Bykofsky: Some yes, some no. Some are complete inventions;
other characters are borrowed from people I know. When inventing a character, I
picture someone I know. It helps with the physical descriptions and helps me
keep them separate.
Davis: Did you cover any of the stories that Shelby covered in the novel?
Bykofsky: I was working the desk the night a tanker exploded in the Delaware. That’s the chapter called Fire on the Water. I actually had a lead on Patty Hearst, through a friend, but the trail went cold fast. As to the suicide of a TV anchor, that was loosely based on Bud Dwyer, but I did not cover that. I was a TV critic for five years and will say the TV reporter Howard Scott was based on WPVI’s Marc Howard.
Davis: Why do newspapers cover crime stories so prominently?
Bykofsky: They don’t anymore -- and that is intentional. The “Woke” element in newsrooms have decided coverage of crime is racist. If you give it a moment's thought, you can imagine why.
Davis: What made you want to go into newspaper journalism?
Bykofsky: I started by joining the college newspaper at
Brooklyn College (night school), because I didn’t like fraternities and it was
one club that had girls, where everyone drank and cursed and smoked. It turned
out writing was a gift -- I could do it easily and I figured it would be a good
career. Not a lot of money, but a lot of fun. My intuition was correct. And the
editor of its college paper got me my first professional job at The
World-Telegram & The Sun in NYC in 1959. I retired 60 years later.
Davis: Was anyone in particular a major influence?
Bykofsky: The aforementioned college editor, Gordon
Lattey -- still a friend. Got me the job at the Telegram, and later got me a
freelance job with a travel magazine he edited, which opened the door to world
travel -- with someone else paying the bill. I have been everywhere from
Antigua to Yugoslavia, something that would have been completely impossible for
someone like me who grew up in the projects.
Davis: How are newspapers today different today from the 1970s, the era portrayed in Press Card?
Bykofsky: I hate to generalize, but they seem to be
run by people guided more by their politics than by news values.
Davis: What do you see for the future of newspapers?
Bykofsky: In print -- none, and that is really sad. I see
them each becoming silos, catering to the perceived biases of their readers. I
can’t be specific because I signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with the
Inquirer, which I am suing for defamation.
Davis: Do you have a favorite book, novel or play about newspapers?
Bykofsky: Citizen Hearst, although only indirectly
about newspapers. And The
Front Page, of course, for sheer fun.
Davis: Do you have a favorite film or TV series about newspapers?
Bykofsky: There was an OLD series, maybe the ‘50s, called The Big Story, something like that, that was sort of a documentary recreation. I also strongly like Absence of Malice, although it is slightly off-kilter about libel law. But Paul Newman and Sally Field -- what’s not to like?
Davis: How would you describe your career as a newspaperman and columnist?
The bad days were few, and I got to travel the world, and rub elbows with
celebrities and politicians. (I don’t really like celebrities, but they make
good fodder for story telling). Unfortunately, I now have forgotten most of the
stories. Importantly, at stages in my career I was able to help people who
needed it, and kick the asses of politicians, who also needed it.
Davis: Do you plan to write another novel?
first one took almost 40 years. I am 80. And I write a very active blog, so
there’s no time.
Davis: Good luck with the novel.
Note: You can read Stu Bykofsky's bio via the below link:
And you can purchase Press Card via the below link: