Journalists around the world share book recommendations

by Clothilde Goujard
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalism Basics

Working as a journalist can be tiresome, overwhelming and fast-paced. Sometimes books can help you take a step back, rekindle your drive for your work, find inspiration or improve your skills.

IJNet reached out to several journalists to ask which books were important to them and find out what they would recommend to other writers.

Read their responses below:

“The Journalist and the Murderer” by Janet Malcolm is as much about what it means to be a reporter as it is a story about a crime, [and] “Killings,” by Calvin Trilling, shows that writing about criminality, in all its forms, can be both compelling and anthropologically deep and rewarding. “Among the Thugs,” by Bill Buford, is a master class in immersive journalism (and its dangers). When I'm looking for beautiful writing, I pick up anything by Paul Bowles or Katherine Boo.

Matthew Shaer is a award-winning magazine journalist for the New York Times. He has reported from several countries for a wide range of publications including The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, GQ, Harper’s and Wired.

I love two complete opposites. “No Turning Back” is written by Rania Abouzeid who is an internationally acclaimed journalist and an Arabic-speaking regional insider with exceptional access. By staying in touch with an Al-Nusra emir, an FSA commander, Assad supporters and other characters for over six years, [Abouzeid] does not just chart events in the Syrian war, but also how they change political and religious beliefs.  

At the other end of the scale but just as humble and humane is the comic book journalism of Joe Sacco. Sacco includes himself as a comically fumbling foreign reporter but it’s a device that sheds light on the people he meets. [His] encounter with hustler-extraordinaire, “The Fixer,” [which takes place] in Bosnia, should be a teaching text in journalism schools.

Juliana Ruhfus is an investigative journalist and producer at Al Jazeera English. She has created award-winning interactive investigation such as #SyHacked on the Syrian civil war.

If there is one book I would suggest it would be this: "The Perils of Perception: Why we're wrong about nearly everything." An important, sobering book for those who claim a role for journalism in the information age, Bobby Duffy uses mountains of research he oversaw at polling institute IPSOS-MORI to show how — despite information being more easily available than ever before — people the world over get the facts wrong on nearly everything we report. [Duffy shares] interesting ideas on what we can, and cannot, do about it.

Peter Cunliffe-Jones is a journalist and the founder and director of Africa Check, Africa’s leading and independent fact-checking organization. He worked for more than 25 years as a journalist including as a reporter for agency Agence France-Presse.

One of my favorite journalism books is a memoir written by the veteran journalist Meg Bortin. “Desperate To Be A Housewife” is Bortin's memoir of her career in the late 20th century in Europe and Russia. I love this book because I feel that it's the most humanizing account of a journalist I have ever read.

In the book, young Bortin is caught between two forces: Her drive to be an incredibly successful journalist, and her strong wish to become a mother and have a "happily ever after." This poignant and personal journey also gives a crash course in history and journalism of the late 20th century.

Many of my colleagues in their 20s and 30s — both female and male — worry a great deal about their futures and own "happily ever after" scenarios, but I feel that talking about these things is still somewhat a taboo. In a lot of circles, I feel that expressing such aspirations would be frowned upon, as if wanting a family or a spouse makes us a less valid, less brave journalist. Especially for women, "making it" as a journalist is already so hard, many of us would deliberately avoid conversations about motherhood, family or anything that might be considered "womanly."

I feel that Bortin's unflinching memoir could help us to start having different kinds of conversations, remind us that we are human, and perhaps it can affirm some of our choices without making us feel self-conscious about them.

Didem Tali is an award-winning freelance journalist with bylines in the New York Times, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, BBC World Service among others. She is based between Phnom Penh and Istanbul.

The book that comes to mind is "Dopesick" by my former colleague Beth Macy.

The reason I suggest this book is that it is an incredible work of investigative journalism, documenting the start of the opioid crisis and the decisions by drug companies and doctors that led the problem were are now facing as a country, with thousands of deaths and even more addicts. The book details the impact of this crisis on rural communities already devastated by rampant job losses and which lack the resources to deal with the crime and addiction. Even more importantly for me, the book serves as an inspiration to current and future journalists that you don't have to be in cities like New York or Washington to do good investigative reporting.

Ron Nixon is an investigative journalist at the New York Times, specializing in homeland security. He is a visiting associate professor for journalism and media studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"Scoop" by Evelyn Waugh is a book I return to regularly, not only because it has a fixed place on my office bookshelf when my eyes wander. I have also reread it this summer because it has an enduring view on our work that is [both] realistic and entertaining. William Booth, who usually writes about nature to the fictitious "Daily Beast" newspaper, becomes a war reporter in a mix-up. [He] ends up reporting a scoop on a fictitious war in fictitious country in Africa.

While this is a fiction book, it tells so much about our profession in times of fake news, instant and mobile reporting and global news distribution that "Scoop" wouldn't need to be rewritten. It is happening, every day.

Björn Staschen is founder of NDR NextNewsLab in Hamburg, a reporter by profession, and is currently managing a large change process to Crossmedia News. Together with Wytse Velinga he has written a standard textbook on mobile journalism, "Mobile Storytelling: A journalist's guide to the smartphone galaxy."

“We cannot go abroad as Americans in the 21st century and not realize," concludes Suzy Hansen in “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World.” “That the main thing that has been terrorizing us for the last sixteen years is our own ignorance.”

A must-read for any American foreign correspondent, Hansen's deeply reflective, honest and constructive book examines how America has indeed built itself an empire — something that those outside of America have seen and felt clearly, while Americans have lived largely ignorant of this side of ourselves — and how the country's interventions and violence abroad have impacted both the trajectory of the Middle East and America.

Reporting from Turkey, Egypt, Greece and Afghanistan in the period between 9/11 and President Trump's election, the book grapples with [Americans’] national myths, what that's meant for the rest of the world, and [how that] impacted us back.

She also interrogates American media coverage, including her own, in order to trace how certain narratives have been perpetuated and to what consequence. In a period in which the American news cycle is dominating headlines at home, Hansen's book is particularly important for unpacking what news stories, or parts of stories, [Americans are] still missing, ignoring or getting wrong. How do we get more Americans to be interested in — and empathize with — events happening around the world? Hanan's book doesn't have the solution, but it's a thought-provoking place to start.

Miriam Berger is a based in Jerusalem who has reported from several countries including Egypt, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Greece among others . Her work has been published in Buzzfeed, Reuters, the Associated Press, BBC, The Guardian, The Atlantic’s CityLab and others. She has also received grants from organizations such as the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting to fund her work.

Do you have a book you would recommend to other journalists? Suggest it in our IJNet Facebook Forum.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Susan Yin.