upstart’s search for the #topjournobooks

18 November 2009

Written by: Tom Cowie

With 2010 and another decade fast approaching, upstart is going into ‘best ever’ mode. This summer, it’s time to rummage through the bookshelves, dust off the reading glasses and publish the essential list of books that every journalist should read.

We’ve already starting compiling a compendium of  reviews of books that we think make the cut and invite you to contribute both your suggestions and reviews.

By undertaking this treasure hunt, we hope to examine and uncover classic gems and contemporary works. We want to find the books that you think have changed the way we view the role of journalism. At the conclusion of our quest, upstart hopes to have compiled the essential list of #topjournobooks.

What are your books that every journalist should read?

Does newsprint classic The Press get a look in or is it all about new media and The Cult of the Amateur?

Do you prefer the investigative journalism of Bernstein and Woodward’s All The President’s Men or the front-line reporting of Herr’s Dispatches?

Did Guy Rundle’s campaign diary Down to the Crossroads uphold the drug-fuelled gonzo legacy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72?

And is there a style guide, dictionary, or thesaurus that you simply can’t get through a sentence without consulting?

Send us your suggestions via the comments section below and upstart will endeavour to add them to our list of #topjournobooks. You can also pitch to review a book by dropping us a line at

Alternatively you can join the conversation and tweet your suggestions on Twitter at #topjournobooks.

Feel free to check out and comment on the reviews already posted for the #topjournobooks list.

  • Ashley

    You Gotta Play Hurt, by Dan Jenkins

  • lynden barber

    Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

  • Hawk

    The Macquarie dictionary. There is nothing worse than a journo who can’t spell and can only draw on a small vocab.

  • tamz

    These are absolute definites for me:
    * a collection of Alasair Cooke’s Letters from America – he is the ultimate story teller, and goes to show that you can find news content in the most unlikely of places
    * Don Watson’s Weasel Words and Death Sentence – these are your guides to breaking out of the world of cliche and corporate new-speak
    * Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, or any good book on poetry and the rhythm of words – a good journalist’s work is a pleasure to read, we are here to entertain as well as inform

  • Mike Dobbie

    – Waterhouse on Newspaper Style by Keith Waterhouse
    – Dispatches by Michael Herr
    – The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley
    – Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
    – The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
    – Vietnam-A Reporter’s War by Hugh Lunn

  • Jonathan Este

    Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn
    Cameron in the Guardian, James Cameron
    A Crooked Sixpence by Murray Sayle
    er ..
    Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

  • Sarah

    THE CONTENT MAKERS – by Margaret Simons is brilliant! The most inspirational and motivational book I read in the journalism course. She gives you a real world view of journalism from the top of the chain to the bottom and all the other ins and outs.

  • Kelly Theobald

    William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is my go-to for sentence structure, lead ideas etc (thanks Rachel) as well as The Writers Coach by Jack Hart (thanks Chris).
    And Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is the original journalistic novel!

  • Stephen Romei

    I recommend On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, first published in 1976.
    If you take only one of Zinsser’s lessons from this book, let it be this one: “Simplify, simplify.”
    His four principles of writing are hard to beat, too: Clarity; Simplicity; Brevity; and Humanity.

  • tomcowie

    I also rate ‘The Writer’s Coach’ for writing style.

    ‘Rebel Jounalism’, the William Burchett collection is a good account of his corresepondence.

    ‘All The President’s Men’ is my favourite investigative journalism book (of course).

    For pop culture anything by Hunter S. Thompson and Chuck Klosterman. Also ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac.

    George Orwell should be on the readings list for all first-year journo students.

    For sport journos I really liked ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis. ‘The Cricket War’ by Gideon Haigh is a great journalistic account of the Packer years.

  • christopherscanlon

    Gotta add Joan Didion’s The White Album

  • mia lindgren

    I recommend Norwegian journalist/author Åsne Seierstad:
    + The Bookseller of Kabul (2003)
    + One Hundred And One Days: A Baghdad Journal (2005)
    + Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya (2007)

  • Kathy Bail

    For a sense of magazine journalism in an era of typewriters, smoking and drinking, read James Thurber’s The Years With Ross.

  • Jennifer Duke

    I’m going to second Sarah: “THE CONTENT MAKERS – by Margaret Simons is brilliant! The most inspirational and motivational book I read in the journalism course.” etc. I found it absolutely fabulous. It contains all the information that you possibly should’ve known before but didn’t, as well as those niggly other things that you might never have otherwise picked up on! It has some compelling statistics as well.

    For a less factual, but still good, read, try- War Reporting For Cowards by Chris Ayres. It is a great perspective on the coverage of the Iraq war, from an embed’s viewpoint.
    Also, Bias- A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberge is gripping. Although it sounds like a narrow-focussed book, it’s actually a fantastic read and a lot of what Goldberg says can be fitted into a wider context.

  • Mat

    The Media Lens books ‘Guardians of Power’ and ‘Newspeak’ are essential reading for any working journalist or student of journalism. Very well-researched analysis that aims to correct the distorted vision of the corporate media. Get a flavour of their work and sign up for alerts at

  • Matt Thompson

    John Updike’s collection of literary criticism, “Hugging the Shore”, because of his endless gems, one being that first person writing is only justifiable when the narrator has, A) witnessed marvels, and/or B) has a clear confessional urgency.
    Updike says all the rest comes across like vanity and empty bragging. Updike is writing about fiction but it holds true for journalism, too, especially literary journalism. As do many other of his observations.

    Another good thick book is “Esquire’s Big Book of Great Writing: more than 70 years of celebrated journalism”.

    Oh, and how about … hey, I just noticed I’m a year or so too late with this. Back into the void.

  • Rania

    Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, The Economist’s online style guide (book?) Hunter S Thompson’s On the Campaign Trail ’72 and Hell’s Angels, Helen Garner’s First Stone and Joe Cinque’s Consolation, anything by Tom Wolfe and finally Dexter Filkins’ the Forever War.