The Best Books for Aspiring Journalists

The Best Books for Aspiring Journalists

In a world of ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and generally more media being consumed than the proceeding decades combined – high-quality journalism is more important than ever.  I have had the pleasure of interviewing some really incredible journalists; their dedication to the written word and to exposing the truth is inspiring. In this special reading list of the best books for aspiring journalists; I have put together a team of fantastic journalists; some I’ve previously interviewed, others I’ve admired. I have asked each of them to nominate what they believe to be the best books for aspiring journalists. What follows is a wonderfully eclectic books for aspiring journalists; each offering a different insight or perspective that could help you reach your goal.     Please meet our expert panel who will help us discover some of the best books for aspiring journalists.

Matti FriedmanMatti Friedman

Matti Friedman is a journalist and author.  He won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize, the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for his first book The Aleppo Codex.  Matti’s reporting has taken him all over the globe, stopping in Israel, Lebanon, Moscow and more.  His writing has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post and more.

james t HamiltonJames T. Hamilton

James T. Hamilton is the Hearst Professor of Communication and the Director of the Journalism Program.  He earned a BA in Economics and Government and a PhD in Economics from Harvard University. His research in the area of computational journalism explores how the costs of story discovery can be lowered if there is a better use of data and algorithms.  James is also a prolific author.

Gary KebbelGary Kebbel

Gary Kebbel served as dean at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He taught journalism for 7 years at Northern Illinois University, where he was named the best teacher in the Department of Journalism. From 1999-2005 he directed the growth of AOL News into one of the largest news sites on the Internet. He is a founding editor of USA and

Samuel freedmanSamuel Freedman

Samuel G. Freedman is an award-winning author, columnist, and professor. A former columnist for The New York Times and a professor at Columbia University, he is the author of eight acclaimed books and is currently at work on his ninth, which will be about Hubert Humphrey, Civil Rights, and the 1948 Democratic convention. Freedman holds a bachelors degree in journalism and history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

You’ve met the panel and now it is time to discover their nominations for the best books for aspiring journalists.

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Gary Kebbel:

The subtitle says it all: What newspeople should know and the public should expect. Kovach and Rosenstiel have written one of the best books about journalism instruction, ethics and professional responsibility. They make it clear that journalism is best and strongest when it operates within clearly defined and rigorously observed rules and practices. They also make it clear that journalism is just one element of the role of information in a democratic society. The other is educating the audience to use it.

Essays by George Orwell

essays by george OrwellMatti Friedman:

This complete collection (published by Everyman’s) demonstrates what clear prose writing is, how a sharp and colorful mind works, and how a great writer engaged with dramatic times without losing his cool, his manners, or his wry sense of humor. If I’m stuck in my own writing, I open this book and almost always find something inspiring – or a diversion that I justify by telling myself it was something I needed to know anyway.

James T. Hamilton

Imagine writing about class, race, inequality, war, socialism, literature, and politics, with great clarity and humor and insight. Add in autobiographical asides that tell the story of the story, and you have Orwell’s essays.

A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

Samuel Freedman:

A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan is journalism done on the vast canvas of an epic book. There are other works of narrative non-fiction that I could also cite — “Common Ground” by J. Anthony Lukas, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, just to name two — but I chose Sheehan’s book because of how it directly arose from his work as a daily journalist covering the early years of the Vietnam War. This book is not some rehash of notebooks and out-takes, though; it’s a densely researched and compelling written biography of one American officer, John Paul Vann, who embodied all that was ill-fated in the Vietnam War.

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Gary Kebbel:

Hiroshima is one of the best books about the effects of war and the ability of people to inflict unimaginable horror on other people. John Hersey accomplishes this through meticulously interviewing survivors, observing them and their environments and dispassionately telling the stories. He made war humanly understandable by clearly and accurately describing its inhumanity. His work reads as well as Hemingway’s. It’s focus on movingly reporting how complex events affect daily life laid the foundation for the “new journalism” of Tom Wolfe decades later. Anyone who has read Hiroshima never forgets it. That is a testament to Hersey’s incredible reporting and writing.

The Imperfectionists by Thomas Rachman

Samuel Freedman:

This novel is a love letter to all the oddballs, aspirants, and searchers who wind up in newsrooms. Rachman builds the book around a fictionalized version of an English-language paper abroad like the former International Herald Tribune, but his quirky crew would have been in many American newsrooms of my acquaintance.

Reporting Civil Rights: Part 1 and 2

James T. Hamilton:

What happens to a dream deferred, then partially realized and stymied? This collection of c. 200 articles from 1941-1973 show how reporters covered the evolution of the US civil rights movement in real time with often riveting details as events unfolded.

A Writer at War by Vasily Grossman

Matti Friedman:

A Writer at War, by Vasily Grossman, edited by Anthony Beevor. An excellent introduction to one of the best journalists and writers of the 20th century, who spent WWII attached to the Red Army fighting the Germans and experienced the Battle of Stalingrad first-hand. A guide to humane war reporting, and also a book sure to put your own problems – as a writer and as a person – in perspective.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Gary Kebbel:

Journalists need to keep an open mind and question culturally held ideas that everyone else just accepts. Thomas Kuhn shows the significant times that scientific theories and culturally accepted ideas have been correctly challenged by people with the fortitude and courage to think differently. He shows us how to do this, and why we need more of it. This book should be a foundational instruction in the independence of thought that journalists must have.

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

Matti Friedman:

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch. This books shows how a good journalist can take on-the-ground reportage, create a work that grabs the world’s attention and tells people something they need to know, and also make something lasting enough to transcend the immediate context in which it was created.

the girls in the balconyThe Girls in the Balcony by Nan Robertson

Samuel Freedman:

The Girls in the Balcony by Nan Robertson offers a reality check for the many journalism veterans who mourn some mythical “good old days” before the Internet, cable TV, and talk radio. A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, Robertson nonetheless brings a piercingly honest eye to that newspaper’s history of sexism, which culminated in an equal-opportunity lawsuit brought many of its female staffers. Sadly, this book is out of print, but it’s well worth the effort to track down a used copy or find it in a library.

The Best I.F. Stone

James T. Hamilton:


I.F. Stone was a document-driven reporter who eschewed press conferences and watering holes for deep dives into statistics and reports. Through his own weekly newsletter, he told stories and truths that were often ignored or elided by other Washington reporters.

Which books would you consider the best books for aspiring journalists? Comment below and let us know!

Image credit (Samuel Freedman): Sara Barrett

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October 14, 2018 at 08:58PM

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