In response to occasional reader inquiries, the Monitor has put together the following list of some worthwhile books on the media, arranged in no particular order. (Though many of the titles are out of print or otherwise hard to come by, most should be available at any decent-sized public library. And thanks to the Internet, even books long out of print are available at surprisingly affordable prices from sites like Amazon and Alibris.)
The Powers That Be (Knopf, 1979) by David Halberstam: Still ranks as one of the best all-around histories of the American news media, with an abundance of interesting anecdotes and insightful observations.
The House That Roone Built: The Inside Story of ABC News (Little Brown, 1994) by Marc Gunther: For decades ABC was an industry joke, a distant third to CBS and NBC in both prime-time programming and news coverage. Then Roone Arledge, who’d already made ABC into a sports powerhouse, took over the news operation in 1977 and took it to the top.
Who Killed CBS? (Random House, 1988) by Peter Boyer: As ABC News moved upward in the 1980’s, CBS 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.
It’s Alive! How America’s Oldest Newspaper Cheated Death and Why It Matters (Villard, 1996) by Steven Cuozzo: Behind-the-scenes look at the ups and downs of the New York Post.
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.
My Times (Grosset/Putnam, 1993) by John Corry: Highly individualistic first-person account by a gifted prose stylist who happened to be that rarest of birds – a conservative reporter at The New York Times.
The Trust (Little Brown, 1999) by Susan Tifft and Alex Jones: Detailed, warts-and-all history of the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty that owns and runs The New York Times.
The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986) by Richard Kluger: The story of the newspaper that for decades was widely respected for the scope of its coverage and the literacy of its writing.
The Great American Newspaper: The Rise and Fall of the Village Voice (Scribner, 1978) by Kevin McAuliffe: Unvarnished look at the pioneering countercultural weekly, from its founding in the 1950’s to the beginnings of its steady decline in the mid-70’s.
Read All About It! The Collected Adventures of a Maverick Reporter (Summit Books, 1982) by Sidney Zion: More than a collection of essays and columns, it’s also a hard-boiled memoir of the newspaper business in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity (Knopf, 1994) by Neal Gabler: Definitive biography of Walter Winchell, not only the most powerful journalist of his time but someone ahead of his time in understanding how the culture of celebrity shapes the news.
Theirs Was the Kingdom: Lila and Dewitt Wallace and the Story of the Reader’s Digest (W.W. Norton, 1993) by John Heidenry: Unsentimental, finely written account of the amazing success of a publication scorned by literary and academic elites but beloved by millions of readers around the world.
Why Didn’t the Press Shout? American and International Journalism and the Holocaust (Yeshiva University Press/Ktav, 2003) edited by Robert M. Shapiro: Collection of essays by thirty scholars examining how news of the Holocaust was covered in various countries.
Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics (Free Press, 1991) by Larry Sabato: A look at the major (and not so major) political scandals of the seventies and eighties and how they were covered by the news media.
Hot Air: All Talk, All the Time (Times Books, 1996) by Howard Kurtz: Solid account of the growth of talk radio and TV shoutfests, though the book could use an update.
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way (Random House, 1991) by Ken Auletta: Detailed recounting of the troubles that plagued the original Big Three networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, in the 1980’s.