Hot Air: All Talk, All the Time (Times Books, 1996) by Howard Kurtz: One of the surprisingly few good books to trace the growth of talk radio and TV shoutfests – and still the best of the lot. Kurtz zeroes in on such phenomena as “The McLaughlin Group,” Phil Donahue and his ever-shriller television progeny, radio shock jocks, and household names like Larry King, Rush Limbaugh and Ted Koppel.
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way (Random House, 1991) by Ken Auletta: The 1980s were a time of turmoil for CBS, NBC and ABC, what with corporate takeovers, the rise of cable and the revolutionary impact on the nation’s viewing habits of a little contraption called the VCR. Auletta’s detailed recounting of those years makes this arguably one of the two or three most important books ever written about television.
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 barely watched experimental program in the late 1960s into an American media institution. The details aren’t always pretty, but that’s what makes the book so compelling.
The Powers That Be (Knopf, 1979) by David Halberstam: More than thirty years after its publication, this still ranks as one of the best all-around histories of the American news media. Halberstam, whose writing style could be leaden at times – especially in a book exceeding 700 pages – compensates with an abundance of interesting anecdotes and insightful observations.
The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight (Crown, 2006) by Marc Weingarten: How a group of iconoclastic writers in the mid-1960s – Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and Jimmy Breslin, among others – changed the way journalists viewed their craft, utilizing unconventional narrative styles and novelistic creativity rather than the staid old “Just the facts, ma’am” approach.
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 the late Roone Arledge, who’d already made ABC into a sports powerhouse, took over the news operation in 1977 and took it to the top. A lively account of that transformation.
Who Killed CBS? (Random House, 1988) by Peter Boyer: As ABC News moved upward in the 1980s, 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.
The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News (Public Affairs, 2008): The glories of CBS News before the crash and burn of the 1980s. Mudd, a CBS correspondent from the 1950s through the 1970s, gives the reader an intimate account of what it was like to work for the premier electronic news outlet of the time.
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 both 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 when the paper was at its apogee. It doesn’t hurt that the author, a Times reporter for many years, is a master prose artist 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.