R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller, BLONDE ICE, was published by Atria on October 18. It is the latest in a series of books from Atria featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION – was published in 2014 and SHOOTING FOR THE STARS came out in 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at NBCNews.com. His previous suspense novels include PLAYING DEAD and LOVERBOY. He was the Claymore Award winner at Killer Nashville 2016 and also a Silver Falchion Finalist.
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About The Kennedy Connection
Half a century after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, someone is killing people on the streets of New York City and leaving behind a bizarre calling card of that tragic day in Dallas.
In this bold and entertaining thriller from a true media insider, discredited newspaper reporter Gil Malloy breaks the story of the link between seeming unconnected murders – a Kennedy half dollar found at each of the crime scenes. At the same time, a man emerges who claims to be the secret son of Lee Harvey Oswald and says he has new evidence that Oswald was innocent of the JFK killing.
Malloy, who has fallen from grace at the New York Daily News and sees this as an opportunity redeem himself as an ace reporter, is certain there is a connection between the Oswald revelations and the NYC murders, but first he has to get someone to believe him. Convinced that the answers go all the way back to the JFK assassination more than fifty years ago, Malloy soon uncovers long-buried secrets that put his own life in danger from powerful forces who fear he’s getting too close to the truth.
Two tales of suspense fuse into an edge-of-your seat thriller as Malloy races to stop the killer—before it’s too late.
“A monstrous hurricane of conspiracy, lies and bodies…”The Kennedy Connection begs to be read from the first page to the last.”
— Killer Nashville
“Belsky has the newsman’s gift…..he tells his story well.”
— Jimmy Breslin
I’ve been a journalist for a long time. I worked at newspapers, magazines and TV news stations. Now I write mystery novels about a fictional journalist, New York City newspaper reporter Gil Malloy.
My old friends from the newsroom say to me: “Wow, you’ve got it easy these days. All you have to do at your job is make stuff up.”
Well, yes and no.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about switching from journalism to novelist.
This guest post is by R.G. Belsky. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller is SHOOTING FOR THE STARS (Atria). It is the latest in a series of books featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION – was published in 2014 and an ebook novella titled THE MIDNIGHT HOUR came out in February 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He was also metropolitan editor of the New York Post; news editor at Star magazine; and, most recently, managing editor for news at NBCNews.com.
1. FACTS ARE YOUR FRIEND
The most important thing a journalist does is make sure the facts are right. That’s a priority even over being first with the story. An inaccurate story is worse than no story. So I’ve spent most of my life checking and re-checking the facts of what I do. And I’m still doing that as a novelist, maybe more than ever. Because you don’t write fiction in a vacuum. It has to be based on some kind of facts, and those facts better be right. There’s an old newspaper adage that says the three most important things in any news story are: “accuracy, accuracy and accuracy.” I’ve followed that rule all my life, and I still do in my novels.
2. MIXING FACTS AND FICTION CAN BE TRICKY
Reporting the news is actually pretty straight-forward, if you think about it. Because it’s all about the facts. In a novel, some is fact and the rest is fiction. In my books, for instance, reporter Gil Malloy works at the New York Daily News, which is a real newspaper. But the characters and the stories are fictional. Sure, I make a lot up, but I have to be sure the basic facts about the Daily News – location, subways to get there, etc. – are right. The same with other locations. I can write a restaurant scene at Sardi’s as long as I put it at the right address. On the other hand, I can also make up a fictional newspaper or a fictional restaurant. But there are rules even then. If I make up a restaurant and put it at an address like 723 East 33rd Street, someone will be quick to point out that I’m eating in the middle of the East River.
3. YES, YOU GET TO MAKE STUFF UP
This is a pretty cool thing to be able to do. Don’t like your old boss? Write a boss character that has unpleasant things happen to him. Dumped by your girlfriend? Write her as a woman who is madly in love with your character. You get the idea, total freedom. My first Gil Malloy book, THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, was about him looking for answers to the JFK assassination. No way I could really have done that as a journalist. But, as a novelist, I created a fictional secret son of Lee Harvey Oswald with all sorts of blockbuster new evidence about Dallas. In SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, I do the same thing to reveal scandalous Hollywood secrets. I gotta tell you – after years of being a journalist who had to stick exactly to the facts – that is fun!
4. A JOURNALIST NEVER FACES A BLANK PAGE
One of the great things about the news is it never stops. There are new stories out there every day. It’s not always that easy for a novelist. There are times when you stare at a blank page with no idea what to say or how to say it. My trick – based on years as a journalist – is to set a deadline for myself. I pretend I’m back at a newspaper and I have to turn in 10 pages to the editor in the next hour. It actually works. At least for me. But then I’ve been chasing deadlines all my life.
5. DON’T RESEARCH TOO MUCH
Yes, I know this kind of runs counter to what I said about facts at the beginning. But you can become overly bogged down with facts in your fiction. Never forget you’re trying to write an exciting, entertaining story – which sometimes means giving a wink-and-a-nod to the facts and letting your imagination loose. Raymond Chandler used to talk about people complaining that his Philip Marlowe character wasn’t an accurate portrayal of what a private detective does. Chandler’s response was that, of course, real PIs don’t get hit over the head and shot at every day, but if he wrote about what they actually did – going over divorce papers at a desk, etc. – no would ever read his books.
6. TRUTH SOMETIMES IS STRANGER THAN FICTION
One of the things I’ve noticed at times is that some of the stories I worked on as a journalist are even wilder and more sensational and more compelling than anything I could ever dream up as a novelist. Take O.J. Simpson. Beloved football superstar, movie actor and TV ad pitchman becomes most hated person in America. Plus, the White Bronco chase, the Trial of the Century, the crazy cast of characters with Johnny Cochran, Kato Kaelin and all the rest. Then there’s the most famous headline I was ever involved with at the New York Post: Headless Body in Topless Bar. Hey, you can’t make that kind of stuff up.
7. JOURNALISM IS TODAY, NOVELS ARE FOREVER
One thing – good and bad – about being a journalist is the immediacy of the job. You can break the biggest story in the world, and your editor will still say to you at the end of the day: “So what do you got for tomorrow?” On the plus side, no matter how badly you screw up a story, there’s going to be another chance the next day for you to do your job better. Books don’t go away. They sit in bookstores for months and years sometimes, and in libraries even longer. So if you make a mistake in your book…well you’re just going to have to live with it for a long, long time.
8. JOURNALISM IS WORK , WRITING NOVELS IS FUN
Okay, maybe I overstated that a bit. Writing novels can be hard work too. But every day when I sit down in front of the computer to write my book, I know that I can do whatever I want. There are no rules in writing fiction except for the rules that you set for yourself. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] You don’t get that kind of freedom in a newsroom. People ask me what I like doing best – being a journalist or a novelist. My answer is both. I’ve had the two greatest jobs I can imagine. Covering the news for real and then creating a fictional journalist who does the same things I did – and a lot more – in my novels.
A mutiny has erupted among photographers who cover President Obama over what they say is the White House’s increasing practice of excluding them from events involving the president and then releasing its own photos or video.
On Thursday, the White House Correspondents’ Association and 37 news organizations submitted a letter to the press secretary, Jay Carney, protesting what photographers said amounted to the establishment of the White House’s own Soviet-style news service, which gets privileged access to Mr. Obama at the expense of journalists who cover the president.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens,” the three-page letter said, “officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.”
The Obama administration has embraced social media as a way to get its message to the public beyond the traditional news media. Senior officials post tweets and blog items, while the chief White House photographer, Pete Souza, posts photos of the president on Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, often minutes after they are taken.
The White House defended its policy, arguing it is not logistically feasible to give photographers access to every event. The deputy spokesman, Josh Earnest, said, “We’ve taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the president doing his job.”
“I understand why that is a source of some consternation to the people in this room,” Mr. Earnest said during the daily White House briefing. “But to the American public, that is a clear win.”
¶Mr. Earnest faced persistent questioning from reporters who said the White House was setting a precedent on access and was substituting a government photographer for those from news agencies. Mr. Souza, a former photographer for The Chicago Tribune who became close to Mr. Obama when he was a senator from Illinois, referred questions to Mr. Earnest.
The letter cited seven recent examples of newsworthy events from which photographers were banned, including an outdoor lunch for Mr. Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and a session in the Oval Office at which Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani human rights campaigner, spoke with Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughter Malia.
Administration officials have said these were private meetings. But in all of the cases, a White House photographer recorded the event and posted the pictures on Flickr or other social media sites. Major news organizations regularly publish the photos.
“They’re excluding photographers from events at the White House, which is a problem in and of itself,” said Steve Thomma, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “But now they’re sending in their photographers and video crews and then releasing the photos and video. That sets up their own media operation.”
Tensions between the photographers and the White House have simmered for months. They flared during Mr. Obama’s visit to South Africa last summer, when photographers were allowed to take a single shot of the president in Nelson Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island, but were excluded from the cell when he hugged his daughter Sasha. That moment was caught by Mr. Souza and widely distributed.
White House photographers have historically captured private moments of the president, with his family or conferring with advisers in the Oval Office or the Situation Room. During the debate over the civil war in Syria, Mr. Souza’s images of internal meetings provided a revealing account of the tensions felt by the president and his staff.
But the news organizations argue that the White House has expanded its restrictions to everyday activities, like the time when Mr. Obama went for a swim off Panama City, Fla., in 2010 to demonstrate that the water had been cleaned up after the BP oil spill.
“The way they exclude us is to say that this is a very private moment,” said Doug Mills, a photographer for The New York Times who has covered the White House since the Reagan administration. “But they’re making private moments very public.”
¶In a tense meeting late last month with Mr. Carney, Mr. Mills and other board members of the White House Correspondents’ Association showed a stack of photos that they said illustrated the problem.
“I said, ‘Jay, this is just like Tass,’ ” Mr. Mills said, referring to the Soviet state news agency. “It’s like government-controlled use of the public image of the president.”
White House blocks access to Obama events, news groups say
BY ANITA KUMAR
The nation’s largest news organizations lodged a complaint Thursday against the White House for imposing unprecedented limitations on photojournalists covering President Barack Obama, which they say have harmed the public’s ability to monitor its own government.The organizations accuse the White House of banning photojournalists from covering Obama at some events, and then later releasing its own photos and videos of the same events.“Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties,” according to a letter the organizations sent to the White House. “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.”
Presidents often look for ways to get their own messages out. But media experts say Obama’s administration has developed an aggressive strategy to use social media, including government-sponsored websites and blogs, as well as Twitter, Instagram and Flickr accounts, to circumvent the media’s constitutional duty more than its predecessors have.
“You are only seeing what they want you to see,” said Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the release of photos and videos, saying the practice helps Obama live up to his pledge of transparency by allowing the public to have greater access to the inner workings of the administration when it’s not feasible for news media to be in the room.
“What we’ve done is we’ve taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the president doing his job,” Earnest said. “To the American public, that’s a clear win.”
He said the news organizations’ protests were just part of the natural tension between journalists and those they covered.
“The fact that there is a little bit of a disagreement between the press corps and the White House press office about how much access the press corps should have to the president is built into the system,” he said at the daily White House news briefing. “If that tension didn’t exist, then either you or we aren’t doing our jobs.”
Relations between Obama officials and journalists have further deteriorated this year.
News reports last spring indicated that the Justice Department had secretly seized the telephone records of reporters at the Associated Press and investigated a Fox News reporter as a potential criminal for doing his job.
In the most recent situation, the news organizations stressed that they’re referring only to presidential activities of a “fundamentally public nature,” not private or restricted events, including ones that may affect national security. But the White House often says the closed events are private, even though it releases its own photographs of the events.
Examples cited in the letter are Obama’s meetings with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 10, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 29 and Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai on Oct. 11.
In each case, journalists weren’t allowed – and sometimes were unaware – of the event. The White House later released written summaries of the events, along with photos taken by a government photographer.
On Thursday, the presidents of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors sent a letter to their members urging them to stop using handout photos and video from the White House.
“We must accept that we, the press, have been enablers,” the letter says. “We urge those of you in news organizations to immediately refrain from publishing any of the photographs or videos released by the White House, just as you would refuse to run verbatim a press release from them.”
It’s unclear how many news organizations use handout photographs from the White House. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services generally doesn’t do so unless they were shot in areas that the media don’t expect to have access to, such as the Situation Room or the private residence areas of the White House.
Harry Walker, the director of the McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service, said opening access to events was “the foundation for journalism, not just photojournalism.”
The letter was signed by 38 news organizations, including all the major broadcast and cable networks, wire services, online services and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and the McClatchy Co., which owns 30 daily newspapers across the nation.
The White House Correspondents’ Association and White House News Photographers Association also signed the letter. McClatchy’s government and politics editor, Steven Thomma, is the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
The letter, which was addressed to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, a former reporter for Time magazine, requested a meeting to discuss the issue.