Who Killed CBS? (Random House, 1988) by Peter Boyer: As ABC News moved upward in the 1980’s, CBS – the network of Edward R. Murrow, William Shirer and Walter Cronkite – headed in the opposite direction, thanks primarily to a misguided policy aimed at injecting more entertainment into news coverage. Add an unstable ownership situation, draconian budget cuts and the consistently weird behavior of Dan Rather and you’ve got all the elements for a fascinating story.
Tick…Tick…Tick: The Long Life and Turbulent Times of 60 Minutes (HarperCollins, 2004) by David Blum: The story of how “60 Minutes” blossomed from a poorly watched experimental program in the late 1960’s into an American media institution. The details aren’t always pretty, but that’s what makes the book so compelling.
It’s Alive! How America’s Oldest Newspaper Cheated Death and Why It Matters (Villard, 1996) by Steven Cuozzo: Whether or not one agrees with Cuozzo’s premise that tabloid journalism “put[s] the nation back in touch with itself,” this behind-the-scenes look at the ups and downs of the New York Post is informative and humorous.
The Kingdom And The Power (World, 1969) by Gay Talese: Published way back in 1969, the book remains invaluable for its inside view of the individuals who ran The New York Times for most of the 20th century (Talese was a Times reporter for many years). It doesn’t hurt that the author is an accomplished prose stylist whose work always sparkles.
My Times (Grosset/Putnam, 1993) by John Corry: A highly individualistic first-person account of one man’s life at The New York Times. Corry, a political conservative who wasn’t afraid of tilting against the Times’s liberal consensus, is also a superb writer and sharp-eyed observer who packs more relevant information into this slim volume than most authors would have managed in a book two or three times as long.
Fit To Print (Lyle Stuart, 1988) by Joseph Goulden: To date the only full-length biography of longtime New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal. Generally perceived as an unflattering look at its subject, the book offers a plethora of juicy tidbits about life at the Times from the 1960’s through most of the 80’s.
Behind The Times (Villard, 1993) by Edwin Diamond: Media critic Diamond, since deceased, wrote this book in the mid-1990’s, shortly after Arthur Sulzberger Jr. succeeded his father as publisher. Diamond’s writing tended toward the pedantic, but the book’s strong point is its examination of how the Times evolved as a newspaper and a business.
(Three other recommended books about the Times are Hard News (Random House, 2004) by Seth Mnookin, about the scandals that afflicted the paper during the Howell Raines era from 2001-2003; Without Fear or Favor (Times Books, 1980) by Harrison Salisbury; The Times of My Life And My Life With the Times (Random House, 1999) by Max Frankel; and The Trust (Little Brown, 1999) by Susan Tifft and Alex Jones, a detailed history of the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty that owns and runs the paper.)