Ben Hills nominates his favourite books about journalists and journalism for The Week magazine.
The Making of a Muckraker Jessica Mitford (Quartet Books ₤2.95). You have to admire the gall of the “red sheep” of the mad, bad Mitford family who begins this feisty primer on investigative journalism with a stolen quotation: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner ... a little literary ability ... (and) the capacity to steal other people’s ideas and phrases.”(The late, great Nicholas Tomalin of London’s Sunday Times said it first.)
The Powers That Be David Halberstam (Alfred A. Knopf) America’s finest journalist’s definitive and exhaustive (it took him seven years to write) account of the rise of the great American media dynasties of the 20th century -- CBS, Time, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post -- and the power they wielded over successive US governments. What a pity he died before he could document their fall in the 21st.
Scoop Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay Books $US14.99) The celebrated novelist’s funniest book, which follows the adventures of a mild-mannered country diarist when he is accidentally assigned to cover a war in Abyssinia. Beneath the slapstick: a caustic satire on the barons of Fleet Street and their gung-ho foreign correspondents.
Paper Tigers Nicholas Coleridge (Birch Lane Press $US24.95) Brilliant and revealing portraits of and interviews with 25 of the world’s Press barons at the height of their power -- the Sulzbergers of The New York Times, the Grahams of the Washington Post and Australia’s Fairfaxes included. There’s an ominous end-of-empire note as one brazen entrepreneur describes his formula for success: 1. Buy newspaper 2. Cut staff 3. Cut quality 4. Cut objectivity 5. Hike advertising rates.
The Press A.J. Leibling (Pantheon Books $US6.95) The doyen of American correspondents and critics muses on the media in beautifully-crafted essays originally published in the New Yorker. You have to stand in awe of the man who was scooped on the liberation of Paris: while Hemingway claimed he was riding a tank down the Avenue des Champs Élysées Leibling was entertaining a grateful Parisian demimondaine in bed.
My Paper-chase: true stories of vanished times (Sir) Harold Evans (Little, Brown £25). In the 1960s and 1970s -- before Rupert Murdoch defenestrated him -- Evans’s London Sunday Times was the place every self-respecting reporter in the world would have given his eye-teeth to work. Its exposeés (think the baby-deforming drug thalidomide) brought corporations to their knees and made governments quake. His scintillating new autobiography explains how and why.