By Janet Clapp
Books Checked Out
With the election season heating up, many of us are tuning in to the news. Because of online options, we have more sources of information today than
in years past, but are we better informed than we were before? Are the purveyors of news to be trusted? Who decides what we are actually told? Can journalists who go undercover reveal important things to the public? Sometimes the media creates the narrative, and sometimes it fulfills its ideal role of providing information citizens should have. Here is a sample of books about journalism and journalists.
“The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman.
Jamieson and Waldman examine how the press can shape the stories that help citizens make decisions in the voting booth. Using examples from the summer of 2000 into 2002, this is an eye-opening book about the power of the media. “Because the success of our democracy depends so heavily on journalists’ exercise of their constitutionally protected mission, it is important to understand the ways shifting journalistic perspectives alter the facts that are deemed important, the ways in which fact is framed and frames come to be assumed, and the ways that journalism’s facts and frames become the stories we tell each other and our children about the meaning of our times.” Jamieson and Waldman look at how journalists sometimes write the story that fits the narrative they already believe or reduce a complex issue or person into a solitary characteristic. “But by focusing on a single character flaw, reporters place a lens over their eyes that can distort the public’s view.” The authors consider the role of the press: “As custodians of fact, journalists need to help viewers and readers make sense of statements about fact while not losing sight of those facts political actors are reluctant to acknowledge.”
“In the Skin of a Jihadist: A Young Journalist Enters the Isis Recruitment Network” by Anna Erelle.
French journalist Erelle (a pseudonym) used a false identity and social media to learn about ISIS recruitment. “In 2014, journalism was no longer a respected profession. And when one worked on ‘societal’ issues, it was out of passion…I wanted to investigate the roots of ‘digital jihadism’ and get to the bottom of an evil phenomenon affecting more and more families — of all religious backgrounds.” Online, playing the role of a young convert, she connected with a jihadist who bragged about his ISIS role and promised to marry her if she went to Syria. Despite her loathing for him, she continued the relationship in order to gather information. “This story went beyond professional interest; it was personal. I realized I’d put so much of myself into it that my curiosity had become both legitimate and unhealthy.”
“A Reporter’s Life” by Walter Cronkite.
Perhaps the best-known journalist of his time, Cronkite chronicles his life, starting from boyhood, when he worked on the school newspaper, and continuing through decades of journalism. “There is a perfectly rational excuse for the newspersons’ seeming callousness: Stories change with each retelling…Accuracy of a story is in direct relation to how soon after the event it is recorded, and how frequently the story has been retold.” He reported sports scores on the radio before becoming a reporter for the Houston Press in the 1930s, then moved to Kansas City to work on the radio “as the news staff, and the sports staff, and the news announcer, and the sports announcer.” He joined the United Press wire service, where he reported on World War II, eventually becoming a news correspondent on CBS radio and TV. He concludes with thoughts on the importance of the press and his criticism of television media: “Sound-bite journalism simply isn’t good enough to serve the people in our national elections.”
“The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News” by Sheila Weller.
Beginning in 1969, when Diane Sawyer became Louisville’s first full-time female reporter, this book weaves together the lives and careers of three journalists. Katie Couric became the first female solo anchor in 2006. “Diane was ever strategic, waiting for the right time to strike — the opposite of Katie, who dove into, or pushed herself into, opportunities. Diane revealed too little, and indirectly; Katie revealed too much.” Christiane Amanpour is a well-known foreign correspondent: “Christiane had spent her best — her strongest — years outside the system….In malarial dens and overcrowded HIV wards and Taliban football fields and mass murderers’ putrid prisons, she’d done her thing — boldly, bravely, with little interference.” Over the years, these women played important roles in the media. “As reporters and communicators of that which was beyond their control — the news of the world — and as women in a tremendously competitive professional arena in which their gender was an impediment, their ability to strongly control what they could control has been central to their success.”
The books above, and others by and about journalists, can be found at the Rutland Free Library.