The best books about journalists as heroes

Who am I?

I’ve worked in and around journalism long enough to know that not all journalists are heroes. Few even aspire to be. But there is something quietly heroic about the daily task of holding the powerful to account, even in democracies where the risk of imprisonment or assassination is less than in more authoritarian states. Here is my selection of books to remind all of us about some of these more heroic aspects of the journalism trade. I hope you find reading them enjoyable and maybe even inspiring.


I wrote...

Journalism: Principles and Practice

By Tony Harcup,

Book cover of Journalism: Principles and Practice

What is my book about?

I was inspired to write this after moving from doing journalism to teaching it, and being disappointed by most of the books on offer. Many academic tomes were full of gobbledebollocks and seemed to look down on mere hacks, while journalists’ own efforts tended towards the unreflective. I wanted to fill the gap by producing a readable book about what journalism is for as well as how to do it. Stories from interviews with journalists, combined with my own experiences and discussion of the scholarly literature, make the book what it is - one that takes entertainment as seriously as ethics.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of All the President's Men

Tony Harcup Why did I love this book?

This might be an obvious choice, but sometimes the obvious is obvious for good reason. Written in the 1970s, it remains the template for investigative journalism to this day. It is a first-hand account of how two heroic young reporters investigated what was initially dismissed as a humdrum burglary at a building in Washington DC. The rest, as they say, is history, and the name of the building – Watergate – has become journalistic legend. Woodward and Bernstein had no special superhero powers. It was their meticulous search for sources, evidence, and verification of dirty tricks – all detailed in this gripping tale – that brought down US president Richard Nixon. Their book is the polar opposite of the ‘fake news’ slogan adopted by one more recent resident of the White House.

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked All the President's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50th Anniversary Edition—With a new foreword on what Watergate means today.

“The work that brought down a presidency...perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history” (Time)—from the #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Final Days.

The most devastating political detective story of the century: two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open, tell the behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened.

One of Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, this is the book that changed America. Published just months before President Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men revealed the…


Book cover of The Great Reporters

Tony Harcup Why did I love this book?

This hugely enjoyable book introduced me to the work of Nellie Bly, and for that alone I will forever be in debt to David Randall. Nellie Bly is just one of 13 great reporters discussed – others include William Howard Russell and James Cameron – but it was her exploits that most captured my imagination. She specialised in going undercover to expose wrongdoing, and her targets included those in positions of power responsible for everything from unsafe factory conditions to the inhumane asylums in which women were locked up for suspected insanity. Her stories were written in straightforward language but were genuinely sensational, raising awareness and helping to change social conditions for the better. As Randall concludes: "Nellie Bly was the very antithesis of cynicism."

By David Randall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Reporters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who are the greatest reporters in history? This unique book is the first to try and answer this question. Author David Randall searched nearly two centuries of newspapers and magazines, consulted editors and journalism experts worldwide, and the result is The Great Reporters - 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived.

Each profile tells of the reporter's life and his or her major stories, how they were obtained, and their impact. Packed with anecdotes, and inspiring accounts of difficulties overcome, the book quotes extensively from each reporter's work. It also includes an essay on the history of…


Book cover of Challenging the News: The Journalism of Alternative and Community Media

Tony Harcup Why did I love this book?

Journalism takes many forms, and this readable study by a journalist-turned-academic examines some of the more alternative styles and outlets that operate beyond the corporate mainstream media industries. Alternative they may be, but the projects studied by Forde produce proper journalism rather than the uninformed commentary or aggressive shouting adopted by some who like to style themselves as ‘alternative media.’ None of the journalists she interviews would see themselves as heroes but, by defying the odds to produce independent reporting in the cause of social justice around the world, they engage in countless small acts of heroism every day. 

By Susan Forde,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Challenging the News as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Community media journalists are, in essence, 'filling in the gaps' left by mainstream news outlets. Forde's extensive 10 year study now develops an understanding of the journalistic practices at work in independent and community news organisations. Alternative media has never been so widely written about until now.


Book cover of 1979

Tony Harcup Why did I love this book?

Thriller writer and contemporary ‘queen of crime’ Val McDermid draws deeply on her own years as a tabloid journalist to bring fictional reporter Allie Burns to life during the winter of discontent. This unputdownable tale of a newspaper investigation into matters of life, death, and corruption is so evocative of a 1970s Glasgow newsroom that I could practically smell the fags and taste the whisky. More Allie Burns stories are promised, and I for one can’t wait.

By Val McDermid,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1979 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE FIRST IN A THRILLING NEW SERIES FROM THE NO.1 BESTSELLER

Pre-order Val McDermid's explosive new novel, 1989, now!
____________________

She's on the hunt for a killer story . . .

1979. It's the winter of discontent, and Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. One of few women in the newsroom, she needs something explosive for the boys' club to take her seriously.

Soon Allie and fellow reporter Danny Sullivan are making powerful enemies with their investigations - and Allie won't stop there. When she discovers a terrorist threat close to home, she devises a dangerous plan to…


Book cover of The Journalist in British Fiction and Film: Guarding the Guardians from 1900 to the Present

Tony Harcup Why did I love this book?

If fictional journalists are your thing, then this book will almost certainly introduce you to some you’ve never heard of as well as those you (really should) have. Lonsdale insightfully identifies and dissects themes that crop up time after time in creative writing about journalists, from swashbuckling rogues to unethical scumbags. In the process, she has plenty to say about the craft of journalism itself and its enduring value to society. There is humour too, as when she quotes the immortal line of Stella Gibbons (author of Cold Comfort Farm): "The life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short. So is his style." Lovely.

By Sarah Lonsdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journalist in British Fiction and Film as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did Edwardian novelists portray journalists as swashbuckling, truth-seeking super-heroes whereas post-WW2 depictions present the journalist as alienated outsider? Why are contemporary fictional journalists often deranged, murderous or intensely vulnerable? As newspaper journalism faces the double crisis of a lack of trust post-Leveson, and a lack of influence in the fragmented internet age, how do cultural producers view journalists and their role in society today?

In The Journalist in British Fiction and Film Sarah Lonsdale traces the ways in which journalists and newspapers have been depicted in fiction, theatre and film from the dawn of the mass popular press to…


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Book cover of Bottled Secrets of Rosewood

Mary Kendall Author Of Campbell's Boy

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What is my book about?

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Bottled Secrets of Rosewood

By Mary Kendall,

What is this book about?

After a logics professor buys the house of her dreams, she must contend with unexplainable happenings. An ancient blue bottle appears to be at the root of the mysterious incidents, but is it?

Miranda falls in love with her dream house but soon discovers it's an affair with complications. A lot of them. Rosewood is a centuries old, tumble-down, gambrel roofed charmer located in an isolated, coastal corner of Virginia referred to as ""strange"". Known for long-standing and antiquated customs, an almost indecipherable brogue and possible witchcraft connections, Miranda shrugs all locational concerns aside to pursue her new love.

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Interested in journalists, investigative journalism, and journalism?

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