Happy Advent everyone! Here’s my first bit of Christmassy content for you all: a fantastic guest post by journalist Lydia Wilkins, who I’ve collaborated with before, on good books for journalism students! What a good gift guide it serves as when it comes to buying for journalism students: I’m particularly interest in the Lynn Barber one.
Note: this post was written prior to the death of Harry Leslie Smith.
2018 has been… well, to me, it has been a pretty amazing time to be a journalist. We had the Cambridge Analytica scoop lead by Carol Cadwalladr at The Observer and Amelia Gentleman at The Guardian reported on the Windrush story (and a lot of the “big stories” were lead by women!). A press that is often attacked stood against the US president, and for someone newly qualified, this was incredible to observe.
With that in mind, I started to think: as a student, I spent so much time reading my way in, dreaming of the stories I could go and write, while waiting to start my NCTJ training. What books, therefore, would make a good Christmas present for journalism students or new trainees?
My Paperchase by Sir Harold Evans
This is the autobiography of the man who deserves the title of Mr Sunday Times; Harold Evans, in his fourteen year editorship, broke new ground. Realistically, this book needs the subheading “A life in news”. There’s the Kim Philby saga, changing a law to expose the thalidomide catastrophe, investigations into how a plane exploded… it’s a pretty hefty tome, but it’s about how journalism can be a force for good.
Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger
Alan Rusbridger published his book in early September this year. As the editor of The Guardian, he oversaw seismic changes in the industry, as well as what was described as a “hat trick” of investigative stories (the Assange papers, Edward Snowden, phone hacking). This is a kind of semi-autobiographical manifesto analysis of what is good and in need of improvement in journalism: it may not offer up the solutions, but it has the right questions we need to ask.
I remember reading The Guardian at secondary school. That was the first newspaper that made me think: “Maybe I could do that.” And this book has reinforced my belief further.
The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
Tina Brown has edited virtually every cultural powerhouse publication going, including Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, before going on to launch The Daily Beast. These are her diaries covering the editorship of Vanity Fair: they cover ever trial and tribulation of creating the magazine. There are also parts of her personal life that Brown touches upon, including how her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Hack Attack by Nick Davies
We can all probably remember where we were when the news broke about Milly Dowler and News Of The World. This is a story about power, and how it can be used in an obscene way. As journalists, I think we have a responsibility to consider what we do: if our job is to hold power to account, how is it at all acceptable to intrude upon privacy, for instance? This is a book that shocked me — after all, I’m too young to remember it in its fullest-possible extent. It should be required reading for all trainees.
The Child by Fiona Barton
Fiona Barton was a journalist, but she now writes fiction. The Child is the second in the series (with the third coming next year). Designed to be read chronologically, or as a standalone, Kate Walters dominates the story. Imagination is probably the best asset of a reporter, as well as asking questions. A tiny ‘NIB’ says that the body of a baby has been discovered. What happens next turns into a double whammy of a story; it’s addictive, written like a thriller, and deserving of a Hollywood adaptation.
Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith
Harry Leslie Smith has been dubbed “the world’s oldest rebel”. While I was a trainee, I was advised to read his writing. Aged 95, Harry is a World War Two veteran; nowadays, he is a passionate advocate for refugees, a writer and a podcaster. Harry’s Last Stand is a book about parts of his upbringing, and how this inspired him to take up what he’s doing today. Although not strictly journalistic, he is a wonderful writer; I think I learnt a sense of pace, particularly in feature writing, having read this book.
A Curious Career by Lynn Barber
Lynn Barber is known for being one of the best interviewers. This is an overview of some of the best interviews, with plenty of hints, tips and anecdotes thrown in for good measure. You may not agree with her on some things, but this is a book that is far from boring.