Thursday, June 23, 2016

New Yorker Skewers True Crime Addict and the Culture of Internet Sleuths


True Crime Addict was just reviewed by The New Yorker and, ugh.

What should have been a review of a book instead became an indictment of Internet sleuthing - and open sourced reporting - by the mainstream media. In a weird, condescending tone, writer Michelle Dean, says, early on, that the book "embodies every problem that arises when online obsessives are infected with delusions of detective grandeur."

In fact, there's no actual review of the writing itself. Was it well written? Did it pull you in? Did the characters pop?

But most disappointing, because of the legacy of The New Yorker itself, is that the piece is riddled with errors that would easily be fixed with a phone call or simple wikipedia search. For instance, she talks about how Maura disappeared 45 minutes after her crash in Haverhill.

In the end, the piece stands as an example of the lazy reporting that I warn about in the book. It's the reason why we need open-sourced reporting, the reason why we need Internet sleuths in the first place. She reached out to the Murray family for comment. But she didn't extend the same courtesy to me. If she had, I would have least helped her correct some basic facts.

She ends suggesting Maura walked into the woods and died. Which is weird, too, given the chapters in the book devoted to the large searches by hundreds of volunteers and New Hampshire Fish & Game.

It's clear to me she didn't really read the book. And that's a shame because I think she would have liked it. After all, the book serves to explain everything that is bad about obsessing over crime writing - which is the point of her "review" too.

But it's clear Michelle Dean came into with a white-knight agenda. It's her thing, as you can read about in this article from the Washington Post in response to the hit piece she wrote on another writer who dared say controversial things. A Gawker writer contributing to The New Yorker? What strange times we live in.

66 comments:

  1. JR: It's "skewers". I let you off this time.

    Bah! "Screw" The New Yorker anyway. It's abominable that politics still influences content, but there ya go. Freedom of the press? Depends upon who owns the press.

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  2. James, I wouldn't worry too much about it. You are in a business where it is expected to receive some negative commentary. It happens to all authors, I'm pretty sure you can find negative reviews for any author, including the most popular ones. I love the book, even though I am familiar with this case, I still can't put the book down. I think the most important aspect of this book is that you elevated Maura Murray into the spotlight again. At the end of the day, you are keeping this case alive more than her own family. They should be thankful for that.

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  3. I started the book last name got and couldn't put it down. Knew from chapter one I was going to enjoy it. Hoping the finally can pin more on Runkle today and go after him. Keep up the good work.

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  4. Honestly James, I'm not clicking the link. I'll take your word for it, because I enjoyed the book very much and appreciate your openness when it comes to working with "Internet sleuths." It's folks such as yourself, Lance, Tim, and even the occasional crazy person that are keeping this story alive. I'll stick with listening to the people trying to help, not the person trying to generate revenue for their publisher by way of cheap, half-assed reviews.

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  5. I read your book over the course of 2 days and I loved it. It's shocking to me that people are critiquing you and your methods. What's the saying, no good deed goes unpunished? Imagine your gall, trying to solve an unsolved crime (and possible murder) and give answers to the family and the community! Imagine allowing the greater community to put their minds to analyzing the evidence available! *sarcasm* *sarcasm* No, apparently you should have just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Or better still, talked down to the little people (your readers) from on high.

    If these armchair critics are so eager to criticize, well I'd like them to do a better job themselves.

    She can critique you all she wants but fact is you uncovered some amazing new clues in this case. #FACT

    You treat the readers of your blog like our input and thoughts are valuable (which they often are) #FACT

    You are doing a service to the community, even if it ruffles some feathers #FACT

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant but the article actually made me really angry because it's very unfair, inaccurate, and one sided!

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    1. Totally agree Jodi...... Awesome book............

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    2. New Yorkers can be even worse than Michiganders Jodi. Just ignore her 😉 I agree with all of your #facts.

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    4. what I say will make you mad so I will behave myself! It was a heart felt piece of work.! Yes, it was well written, yes it pulled me in, I could not put it down, yes the characters came alive as I continued to read!!!

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    5. Thanks Kim, Kassandra & UnknownJune 24, 2016 at 10:07 AM
      :)

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  6. I read the piece (of trash) earlier this morning. As someone who graduated with a degree in journalism, I was appalled at her many errors. The title itself is misleading. There is no review, it's all her (wrong, skewed, and ridiculous) opinion. I finished True Crime Addict in a matter of hours. The first page of it was better than this whole article. (Can it even be called that?) Keep doing what you're doing and don't let agenda-based journalists get to you.

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  7. Ancientexplorer1989June 23, 2016 at 8:24 AM

    yawn. just another person writing for mainstream media trying to keep their job through controversy and complaining. sure is terrible (lol) that there are everyday people out there keeping cold cases alive and digging for answers in hope to find something, anything to help bring closure.

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  8. I'm new to commenting, but have been reading your blog for a few months. I ordered the book right away. This case has stuck with me over the years, so I couldn't wait to get the book! I loved it! My only wish was that it was 2x as long because it was so good.. Thank you for keeping her case alive!

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  9. James, I love your work, but you are an admitted extreme leftist. The author of the piece is too; most, if not all, media members are. Even Fox News. The left in this country is filled with so many contradictory ideas, mind sets, and buzzword attack slogans, that you'll eventually (playing out now) are going to implode under the swinging pendulum that you've pushed to far to the left.

    Attacked by a lib journalist? Welcome to what any conservative in the spotlight goes through.

    Stop crying and deal with it.

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    1. This is the most ridiculous statement that I have read in a long time. Thank's for the laugh.

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    2. So I just read the article in its entirety and I must say her opinions are more those of a prosecutor's than a journalist. With the exception of yellow journalism, reporting by definition is a researching and recording and making publicly available the facts. And she as a reporter is going on record as saying that your methods of doing so are madness. I really felt like i was reading something written from the angle of a prosecutor. Just my two cents again :)

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    3. Exactly. "Stop crying and deal with it".<- that same quote can be applied to the "conservative in the spotlight" whinging about their alleged mistreatment. Both sides are filled with contradictory ideas. No side has the advantage over another in the media or "spotlight". So I say you sir or ma'am above anon June 23 9:49 AM should instead stop your crying and get over it yourself. This guy can write whatever he likes in his blog or book and he can rant about a poorly written review whenever he damn well pleases.

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    4. It's a bit rich that on the one hand you lump a huge range of opinion and people together as "extreme leftist" and "lib", and then claim "the left" is full of "so many contradictory ideas."

      Ya think? Maybe the problem is with your definition of "left." News flash: it doesn't mean "anybody to the left of me." And if you think it does, the problem with diversity of opinion is with you, not them.

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    5. "Leftist"? Pffft ... point me to the page where all of these "lib" ideas are replete ... I read the book and nothing jumps out. If there is, it didn't scream "leftist" at all.

      What we have here folks, is another troll who wandered in from CNN.com commentary pages.

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  10. I'd let it go. She's probably just miffed at not being one of your Irregulars!!!!

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  11. Ancientexplorer1989June 23, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    I find it amusing that the new yorker does not have a comment box below their articles. Must be fearful of criticism XD

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  12. Here's where the "review" loses all credibility:

    "In the book, Renner writes, without any evident self-awareness, that he fell 'in love with Amy Mihaljevic when I saw her MISSING poster hanging on a utility pole when I was eleven years old.'"

    If anything, I found James to be HYPER-AWARE of himself in his writing, sometimes uncomfortably so. And pardon me for being the voice of reason here, but what exactly constitutes "minor" credit card fraud? I know I wouldn't want to be staring down the business end of that sort of accusation, and I wouldn't take it lightly if I had a child who was accused of that, either.

    The reviewer has proven that she can't be bothered to get the basic facts of the Maura Murray case correct in this brief article. Are we to look up to her (and those of her kind) as an example of "good" journalism? I think not.

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  13. I once wrote an essay on The Looking Glass by Anton Chekhov for my college English class and I got an A on it. The professor said it was a new and interesting angle I brought to the critical analysis. Well, I never read the darn story. My analysis was interesting because it was complete Bologna. My writing was good so he didn't notice. My point is....it is not unusual for flowery and prolific writing to get praised while substantiated writing gets ignored. At the end of the day as my dad always says, you know the truth and that's what really counts.:)

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  14. Mr Renner, the overall tone in the article is not very flattering, and I hate to say it but, maybe now you know what Fred Murray feels like. I agree with what the author said about Fred and the media.

    She talks about you publishing on your blog every little rumor that you could, but she worked with Gawker Media? Would you like a side of irony with that?

    She says she read the book, but there isn't any real review of the book, the style or the content. It's disappointing that this is in The New Yorker, one of my favorite mag's. Maybe her rent was due, needed some fast cash, and threw a bunch of words together.

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  16. "The reviewer has proven that she can't be bothered to get the basic facts of the Maura Murray case correct in this brief article. Are we to look up to her (and those of her kind) as an example of "good" journalism? I think not."

    ^ if she wrote and reported showing how the sausage is made, she wouldn't have a job.

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  17. They say a negative review in a prominent publication is better for a book than no review at all. I have a hard time agreeing that internet sleuths are a “serious problem.” I do agree with the reviewer’s conclusion that “For all that Renner has written on Maura Murray’s case, both in his book and online, I’ve never seen him seriously investigate the most plausible theory: that, fearing a D.U.I. arrest, Murray walked away from her car in the New Hampshire cold, got lost, and died.”

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  18. How quaint. Another review by a "real" journalist who is mad that an "amateur" journalist did something they couldn't/didn't/don't approve of.

    Keep up the good fight James, you're fine. The dinosaurs aren't happy that the earth is cooling and the mammals are taking over. :)

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  19. I think it's clear to anyone who read the book, that Michelle Dean certainly did not. Her knowledge of the case seems to be lacking as well. Maybe she's in denial that her ship of tradition news media is sinking and is trying to make herself feel better? Who gives a rip about the New Yorker in 2016. Keep up the good work James.

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  20. I should have noted in my previous comment that having your book reviewed in the New Yorker is a really big deal, regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative take.

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  21. James- bitter, unhappy people constantly criticize with no rhyme or reason. Get a tougher skin. Your book was great reading.

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  22. The book has had generally very positive reviews. Sometimes a critic will decide to take up a ... "unique" perspective to create a more negative review when that happens. It's not fair, though. She didn't evaluate the book itself really at all. Great book, James, really enjoyed it.

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  23. I loved your book and your raw honesty. I won't be reading the negative review.

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  24. Everyone's got an opinion, or an agenda. I really enjoyed the book. I'm a slow reader and finished it in a couple of evenings. I think it also likely that any mainstream 'journalist' these days is probably feeling a little insecure about internet blogs and crowd-sourcing.

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  25. I have not read the book yet, but I plan too soon. I could care less about this ladies opinion. The only opinions that matter to me are the ones by the people who have been following this board. Keep up the great work James and don't let this distract you from moving forward.

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  26. Not everyone is going to love you. That's true for all of us. It's especially true for journalists. It's even more true for journalists who write about crimes and potential crimes, like the disappearance of Maura Murray. As with any crime victim or missing person, writing about MM's disappearance is to going to have strong emotional impact on her family, friends, and other loved ones. If this does prove a criminal case, efforts by independent investigators have the potential to complicate the work of law enforcement and to cloud and confuse whatever charges they may eventually file. This doesn't mean that people shouldn't write about crime, or about missing persons. It does mean that a journalist who chooses to do so is putting himself in a minefield of conflicting expectations and conflicting, ambiguous ethical standards. Not everyone is going to agree on just what the appropriate ethical standards are, or just precisely when they are being violated.

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  27. There were times on the blog when I thought you were out of bounds in your public critique of Fred Murray. In the beginning, when you started to find out about Maura's various problems, it seemed unfair to be digging into and publicizing those problems. However, as you started to piece things together on the blog, what bothered me was that the case had been previously publicized without reference to Maura's actual situation. Local papers, magazines, TV--all mentioned the packed up room, the rag in the tail pipe, Billy Rausch, the friends who won't talk, either without context or without regard to actual facts. What you did was correct the record, as best you could. It's clear, I think, that there are people who know more than they are saying. If the case was worthy of reporting at all, it deserved good reporting. And you provided that.

    Moreover, I've read one other book and a long memoir online this week in which writer/researchers have done more to illuminate long-unsolved cases than the police or local journalists. It's the New Yorker. Not exactly a hotbed of investigative journalism. And internet bloggers are an easy target. You did good work.

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  28. Like you said on the True Murder Podcast, having a blog as a lightening rod for a case is very helpful. Even when you take the trolls and the thousands of comments to sort thru into consideration, it's worth it for the victim. Thanks for being dedicated.

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  29. Like you said on the True Murder Podcast, having a blog as a lightening rod for a case is very helpful. Even when you take the trolls and the thousands of comments to sort thru into consideration, it's worth it for the victim. Thanks for being dedicated.

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    1. How is it helpful? She hasn't been found yet. And in my opinion, unless people start searching the mountains again, she won't ever be found.

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  30. What happened with that Chez Suzette story/woman?

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  31. Read it in nine hours this weekend. Good flow and it really is focused on Maura more than the effects of sleuthing on the dime.

    Appreciate it mentions David Whalen and the ORIGINAL main suspect of Armchair Detective's, the guy on Hummingbird Lane.

    "I saw your think" ... what other examples since publication?

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  32. Awesome book.....................!!!

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  33. Slightly off topic...has a reward ever been offered for information leading to an arrest or (best case scenario) Maura's safe return? I would pledge some many. Maybe we can raise an award and encourage people who might be sitting on evidence or a suspicion to come forward.

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  34. Some MONEY, I meant to type!!

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  35. James – I hope you take the opportunity and read what I have to say here. First I want to say, I got the book, I read the book… and I loved the book. I have been a fan of the blog for 2 years now. I have reached out to you on a few occasions with leads that I thought were pretty neat, and even spoke to you on the phone about a lead that went nowhere really. In that conversation you slowed me down, asked key questions and I learned a great deal about something we all take for granted, linear investigation. The reason I brought all of that up is simple. Your accessibility made reading the book that more enjoyable. This is an experience I never had before. I have never talked with a director of my favorite movie “The Goonies” – I have never talked to the singer of my favorite band “New Order” – and I have never spoken to the author of my favorite childhood book “To Kill A Mockingbird” – But I have talked with the author of my favorite True Crime case – James Renner. Although I did nothing to contribute to furthering the case, my ideas, my theories and even potential leads were listened to. That is a whole new level of interaction that makes me feel part of something. I feel a part of this whole thing.

    Isn’t that what great writing is all about? To draw you in? This is more than an entertaining read, it is more than that. You got me just as interested in finding the truth.

    I don’t read much anymore. I did. I have not read a book cover to cover in 3 years. When I do, it needs to genuinely have my interest. This one did. I read her article, her “review turned into soapbox” – It’s a shame that she could not circle back to what I think is the key to this whole journey. There is a band of people out there that all share a common ideal – to help get closure to this long, heartbreaking journey for the Murray family… and of course for the rest of us who have more than a passing interest in finding the truth.

    This was a great book. Kudos for your hard work and sacrifice – and thanks for letting all of us be a part of it.

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    1. Thank you very much for the kind words. I really appreciate it. From the reactions online, it seems she has much support from the "literati" of New York but little elsewhere. Which is fine. I don't write for the New York crowd.

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    2. Total agreement Michael Gr8 book................

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  36. I really enjoyed the book. I do think she was pregnant and didn't want the baby, I think she was drinking so much to try and miscarry. Maybe that is also why she had the accidents. Maybe she was trying to get rid of it that way. I watched her on the disappeared episode, it struck me she was always smiling, but didn't look happy. Maybe depressed and trying to cover it.

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  37. Also wanted to add, I finished it in 2 days, that is how much I enjoyed it. I have a stack of books just sitting here that I have read 1-2 chapters. Great book.

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  38. Was a great book James. Well written, hard to put down. Was hoping for some major development toward the end. This is the definitive book on Maura. The family should read it.

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  39. I was looking at the Doe Network and came across a young woman who was found on July 27, 2005 in Brooklyn Maryland. IMO-the sketch of the young woman resembles Maura. I know she has been excluded as being this person but IMO it should be double checked.
    There's a lot of similarities to Maura.
    The woman found was between 19 and 23. Red and brown curly hair.. about 8 inches in length, about 120 lbs and 5'5.
    The person that was found had a healed nose fracture and healed cheek fracture. Some people suspect that Maura might of had a black eye and that's why the ATM video wouldn't be released.
    Also, another similarity is in the Saturn there was a pair of plain white sneakers.
    The unidentified female had plain white sneakers on.
    Most likely, it's not Maura but I think it should be double checked. This woman was found a little over a year after Maura disappeared and IMO-The sketch resembles Maura.

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    1. To clarify: a body of a Jane Doe was found in Brooklyn, MD 07-27-05. The use of word "woman" usually indicates a person that is alive in reports. Ugly and uncomfortable as it is, the term "body" is best for reports & info when it is a deceased person that is found. It can't hurt to look into it again yes. But seeing the "red/brown curly hair" it might not be her.

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    2. Oh my gosh, good catch! It does indeed resemble her. I hope James can help confirm that this lead has truly been explored and that she's been 110% ruled out as Maura...because the likeness and other details do match up.

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    3. Also, the Jane Doe was found with a black fanny pack filled with cosmetics and a black scrungie.
      Hasn't it been said that Maura didn't like carrying a purse. I know it's been said, that Maura would use a small backpack. Did she use fanny packs too?

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    4. If the white shoes were found in the car, then the ones this woman was wearing wouldn't be them would they.

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    5. That looks nothing like her.

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    6. that person was found deceased, they say months prior. I personally don't think it looks like her though. I would think if she were found a year after, unless her body was mutilated beyond belief, it would be a piece of cake to identify her. Sure she kind of has a generic look, but not that much.

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    7. Anon- July 1,@ 6:39
      Yes I know it's not the same pair of shoes that were in the car. But Maura left the accident site, most likely with a pair of shoes on her feet and at least publically no one knows what they looked like. I was pointing out a similaritie.
      Both liked/had white shoes.

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    8. If Maura left the Saturn accident and started a new life, no one knows what could of happened to her a year later vs 12 years later.
      Maura could of lived a year, two, three, etc and then something happened to her. Who knows.

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    9. Interesting...it's a straight shot from Haverhill, NH to Brooklyn, MD. I wonder how this could mesh with Maura's associates whose timelines when Maura went missing were a little dodgy...those whose time was unaccounted for?...I'm not pointing fingers because there were several...

      http://i66.tinypic.com/oihno4.jpg

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  40. The article mentions a "dent" in Fred's car. It was more than a dent.

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  41. I JUST finished the book and enjoyed it. Been fascinated with this case since i first saw a news report on it - one of those dateline or 20/20 shows.

    Who cares what critics think, I don't. I'd rather form my own opinion than take someone else's...they might be a whackjob for all we know!

    And i can't shake the weirdness of SO many people urging you to stop digging and to stop trying to find an answer to her disappearance. It's like they all know something they aren't sharing. Things that make you go hmmmm.....

    Keep up the good work. Cant wait to read your other books.

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  42. Sour grapes from someone who's watching the industry they've devoted their life (and career) to crumble out from under their feet? I have no idea how ANYONE can possibly "make it" as a traditional/mainstream journalist in this day and age. Do you get on at a small-town paper making 20k a year (if you're lucky), or write "freelance" pieces for some online weekly for $40 a pop? There's just no way to make a living at it anymore.

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  43. I downloaded your book, Mr. Renner, from the library and finished it in one night. Midway through, I hopped over to Amazon to read customer comments. I always start with the "1 star" reviews, and frankly, it took me no time at all to realize that almost all of those neg reviews had an agenda against the author, James Renner. I figured the writers of the reviews were friends of the Murray family or had some other vested interest in the case. The reviews were absolutely off-the-mark as to what I was listening to via the audiobook.

    I have to admit to not knowing a lot about this case. Her disappearance happened when I was out of the media loop attending grad school (as an older student - waaaay older, LOL). So, I had no idea about the your blog or of any controversy surrounding the author or True Crime Addict.

    I went back to finish the audiobook, knowing the neg reviews, and still found the book (and James' own narration) to be enthralling, interesting, intriguing, and frustrating (Maura's not been found). The negative reviews did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of True Crime Addict.

    So, I, too, shall refrain from clicking on the New Yorker hit piece - they don't need my click. When a reviewer (or Amazon commenter) goes after the author of a book instead of reviewing the book itself, I know that those types of reviews/comments are not worth the bandwidth it took to upload their "thoughts."

    Long comment but wanted to add my two cents. I took your book for what it was, and in the end, enjoyed listening to it. It also brought me to your blog.

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