Many Marylanders know Fraser Smith as a longtime reporter and opinion columnist at The Baltimore Sun. But, as Smith shares in his new book, “The Daily Miracle: A Memoir of Newspapering,” he, and his notebooks, stopped in Jersey City and Providence before Charm City. And he’s quite a storyteller.
Published when some daily newspapers are going out of business and journalism itself is under mortal attack by Donald Trump, Smith’s memoir is, in part, a love song to a bygone era. With tales that recount big budgets, outsized influence in local communities and a murkier line between reporters and the public officials they covered, it is fun to read.
Smith describes learning much of his craft largely on the fly and he certainly didn’t lack for ambition. After college and the military, Smith offered his services to The New York Times, but persistence and luck got him just across the river to Jersey City. There he worked his way through lots of not-so-glamorous assignments while absorbing that city’s quirky political culture.
Through his decades of work, Smith recalls big events and colorful characters.
The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 came early in Smith’s career. His reporter’s account illustrates how a city newspaper, far removed from an earth-shattering event, improvised coverage. Smith went on his own to Washington, D.C., and wrote his impressions. The story never ran, but an editor’s feedback helped shape his approach to reporting.
Although readers won’t mistake Smith for Forrest Gump, he certainly had his share of fascinating stories. Inner city poverty in Providence. The war in Vietnam and its reverberations at home. Adventures covering General Assembly sessions in Annapolis. Writing opinion pieces for the Sun and, later, The Daily Record. Smith brings topics and institutions to life in stories about real people with their full array of strengths and foibles.
Yet there is a larger, more important point to take from “The Daily Miracle.” Journalism in this country is in big trouble. The old economic model no longer works. The trust that so many Americans had in the press has been seriously eroded.
And there are only so many Jeff Bezoses around to rescue daily newspapers. The search for new approaches continues with, at best, limited results.
Meanwhile, the cost to our politics and to civil society is alarming. While we are besieged by pundits telling us what to think about national politics, it’s getting hard to find coverage of city hall or the county council or the zoning board. Responsible government depends on informed citizens.
Smith’s daily miracle was one of the keys to that. What happens now?
— LASLO BOYD
The writer is a political commentator and higher education consultant.