Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media? is seminal reading in the broad field of ‘bias studies.’ The book challenges the common orthodoxy—that the mainstream media are shills of the political left—and argues the opposite case. At its core, the book demonstrates the complexity at the heart of the often trite conversation about media bias—and, in that, should be required reading for media critics.
Herbert Gans’s Democracy and the News questions another orthodoxy: the direct connection between journalism and democracy.
Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society makes a strong case that we are, indeed, engendering a “post-fact society.” The evidence Manjoo cites in the service of that case serves, as well, as the foundation of the essay above.
Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media—the book that helped spawn the term “McLuhanesque”—is dense, broad, and often opaque. And yet, for all that, it is a seminal treatment of the complex (and in some ways utterly simple) relationship between, as McLuhan coined them, the medium and the message.
Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is built upon the foundation that McLuhan established—but if focuses on the medium that was still relatively new in McLuhan’s time: television. The New Yorker writer follows in the footsteps of McLuhan, as well, in his multi-faceted approach to cultural and communications criticism: in his scathing and convincing treatment, we get references to history, sociology, anthropology, and much more.
Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community reminds us of the ultimate goal of journalism in a democracy: fostering civic engagement. Any treatment of the future of news needs to account for the complex relationship between public information and public engagement.
Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach’s The Elements of Journalism is a classic that deserves to be. It was very much an inspiration for Press Forward.
The Sociology of News, by media scholar Michael Schudson, is exactly what its title says: an examination of the culture of news. But the title also belies the book’s surprising entertainment value: Schudson illustrates his many insights with examples that range from the illuminating to the surprising to the downright hilarious.
Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations offers a fascinating and compelling look at how the medium of the Internet is affecting the structure of social organization. It is a manifesto of sorts—an analytic celebration of the empowering capabilities of the Web.
Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”, meanwhile, provides a compelling explanation of our current moment in journalism.
Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media offers an unparalleled treatment of the early days of the American media, with a particular focus on the role that the government played in fostering literacy and journalism. The book won a Pulitzer for the Princeton political science professor, and for good reason.
Cass Sunstein’s Republic.com 2.0 and the more recent Going to Extremes together make compelling arguments for our political and cultural need for an “architecture of serendipity” in our journalistic infrastructure.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.