The Best Books On American Journalism

Robert W. Merry Author Of A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent
By Robert W. Merry

The Books I Picked & Why

Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism

By Eric Burns

Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism

Why this book?

Burns brilliantly tells the story of those first potent American journalists, the pamphleteers, who brought to their craft lively, probing, acerbic, and often angry commentary and reporting. Some ripped into George Washington and the Federalists, thus establishing a tradition of journalism that extends to our own time. Others went after Jefferson and the fledgling Democratic-Republicans. And one, James Callender, broke the story of the now-famous Jefferson dalliance with his slave Sally Hemmings. 


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The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune

By Richard Kluger

The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune

Why this book?

This is primarily the story of three newspapers--James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, and the merged paper under the ownership of diplomat and politician Whitelaw Reid and his heirs, including his daughter-in-law, Helen Rogers Reid, a firecracker of an executive and woman about town. But it is also a comprehensive story of New York newspapering from the 1830s to the 1960s and about the city and country that served as the focus for news coverage during those decades. It is a poignant tale of soaring triumphs and ultimate decline as new challenges beset the newspaper business and even large cities could no longer support multiple papers.


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The Great American Magazine: An Inside History of LIFE

By Loudon Wainwright

The Great American Magazine: An Inside History of LIFE

Why this book?

No other magazine ever burst upon the national scene with as much financial and editorial force as Life, founded by Henry Luce in 1936 to exploit the new technology of high-shutter-speed cameras that could capture events and activities like never before. Luce’s vision (actually, it came initially from his future wife, Clare Boothe Luce) was to stir the human spirit with photos of sports stars in action, the magnitude of huge structures such as the Grand Coulee Dam, a baby being born, the agony of war. With such photography mixed with probing and discursive long-form journalism, Luce transformed American magazine journalism--and got very, very rich in the process.


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Decline and Fall: The struggle for power at a great American magazine: The Saturday Evening Post

By Otto Friedrich

Decline and Fall: The struggle for power at a great American magazine: The Saturday Evening Post

Why this book?

Before Life there was the Saturday Evening Post, a roaring success capturing the spirit of Middle America at a time when Middle America defined the cultural ethos of the nation. But by the late 1950s the potent reach of television advertising undermined the general-interest magazine business model, and the Post slipped into an inexorable spiral of decline that its top executives could never quite handle or even understand. There’s plenty of pathos and human drama as they struggle with forces beyond their control. 


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Paper Losses: A Modern Epic of Greed and Betrayal at America's Two Largest Newspaper Companies

By Bryan Gruley

Paper Losses: A Modern Epic of Greed and Betrayal at America's Two Largest Newspaper Companies

Why this book?

The big Detroit newspaper market eventually narrowed down to two newspapers--the News and Free Press--neither of which could knock out the other while neither could turn a profit in a competitive market. This is the story of the struggle of the two greatest newspaper chains--Gannett and Knight-Ridder--to forge a “joint operating agreement” allowing them to merge production and business efforts while retaining separate newsrooms. Few participants cared much about editorial standards as the rush for huge profits drove the process. In the end, it all came a cropper. It’s a sordid tale in many ways but a riveting one.


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