Bruce Lang's long career in television and radio news includes a stint at KHSL-TV, Channel 12 in Chico, where (according to Wikipedia) he was news director from 1986 until 2003. So when Geoff Mann, the central character in Lang's new novel, "Newsman" ($18 in paperback from Klamath Press), takes a job as news director for a similar station in Northern California, it's tempting to play the match game. Which fictional characters are based on real-life persons?
Indeed, in some cases the correspondence is apparent even to outsider observers. The fictional KTBK's Chief Meteorologist is one Wendell Lumpus, "an excellent weatherman. . . . He was very knowledgeable about computers, long before it was fashionable, and devised computerized weather graphics for many television stations around the country." But "Lumpus seemed to have no sense at all how his comments might affect fellow workers or members of the public, and would be genuinely surprised at their reaction." There are other characters of similar wattage, and Chico insiders may revel in the snarky references.
Readers can be forgiven this diversion since the book reads like a memoir disguised as a novel, replete with Mann's dark thoughts about egos in journalism; young, attractive reporters and why they're so abundant in television; penny-pinching owners; and the triumph of quantity over quality in broadcast news. "It used to be people were valued for what they knew," Mann muses; "now they were valued for what they thought. Opinion became more important than knowledge."
The story traces Mann's career, beginning with work at a weekly tabloid sometime in the mid-1970s in the coastal town of Founders. Mann eventually moves to radio news, then to a Founders television station, and finally to the valley town of San Ide (home of San Ide State University) and KTBK.
Along the way Mann is manifestly unlucky in love, married for a time, going through a succession of girlfriends, haunted by a mysterious female voice asking for help. Stress produces heart palpitations, an old friend takes his own life, and he is forced out as KTBK news director when the station merges with another in San Ide. The mood is bleak, the sex oral, the language foul. For the author, it is the story of America in decline.