Book Review

Journalism: A Very Short Introduction by Ian Hargreaves

Journalism: A Very Short Introduction by Ian Hargreaves

Time to dodge the bullets. I am but a young buck of a journalist and it simply wouldn’t do to disparage both employers and profession whilst either are within earshot. This book was published before under a different title and the material has been drip fed into the “A Very Short Introduction…” series of titles which aim to give readers a brief, colourful insight into a subject and ignite a passion for further learning and discovery. The book series is an alternative ilk to the Introducing series of yesteryear which briefly introduced readers to people, topics and ideas. Journalism: A Very Short Introduction suffers where the “Introducing…” titles excelled. There are pictures in this book but no cartoons. Humour was used by the “Introducing…” books series to great effect to draw the reader in and make the subject covered that much more interesting. So much rests on how a subject is taught and being likened to a textbook would be the kiss of death for a title such as this.

Fortunately, Journalism: A Very Short Introduction has the appearance of a pamphlet and not a textbook. It looks like a guide and it is clear that its purpose is to be a guide to the unsure traveller walking in uncharted territory. The paragraphs are short, clear and easy to read. Numerous photographs of newspaper front pages break up the text that all capture the key moments of the past few years and further back into the decades of the last century. The photograph of Rupert Murdoch on Page 84 is, itself, a telling portrait of the state of journalism in this modern era. Mr Murdoch stands in the same posture that kings and heads of state have stood in over the centuries. This is the portrait of an icon and a leader. It is a well understood fact in British journalism and outside that Mr Murdoch can survive without the support of Tony Blair but Tony Blair cannot survive without the support of Mr Murdoch.

Journalism has always been able to bring down government ministers but now; the modern mass media is actually in the thick of the discussion sessions concerning policy initiatives. The media filters the opinion of the mob and the mob has been given undue prominence and power. Hargreaves understands this concern and many more besides. The book is not a dry account of journalism penned by the hand of an academic. It’s part memoir and part political pamphlet. It tells and it shows in equal measure. The reader is thrust into the atmosphere of a modern newsroom before being tapped on the shoulder and informed that- in the near future- modern newsrooms like this won’t exist. That they will be replaced by online newspaper and- as is the latest thinking from the masters of technology- the news of the day will be delivered to its audience on liquid paper.

The cover is awful. Do the varying shades of green actually have a purpose or are they simply present in order to neutralise the volatile reputation the mass media has amongst a public which couldn’t even begin to comprehend how the presses run or what really goes on inside the heads of editors. Lisa Jardine from The Times seems to think that this book is “perfect to pop in your pocket for spare moments.” Perhaps? But I really don’t see the person at the back of the bus putting his cigarette down and his whiskey bottle onto the cold floor below in order to scan yet another page in this remarkable commentary on the industry Mr Hargreaves and myself both adore.

This very short introduction to journalism is bang up-to-date, as the photographs of hostages in Iraq, begging for mercy from their captors and the world at large, clearly show. Hargreaves wants journalists to question and for the public to question journalists. So, who is this book actually for? Never has there been a more prominent, pivotal question amongst the coterie of young, beady-eyed journalists. CNN, ITV, BBC and hundreds of other media networks around the world regularly appeal for eyewitness accounts and video from the scenes of breaking news, snippets of the action sent direct to the news studio via the gaze of modern mobile phones. Citizens are becoming journalists. So, where does that leave the journalists? This book is not a definitive answer to what makes a journalist tick. It is short, snappy and to the point. It is an instruction manual expertly disguised as a fascinating read. It is informative and, if you’re not careful, you just might catch yourself learning something.

Just because 1984 passed long ago, doesn’t mean that Orwell was wrong. Journalism has a tortured relationship with the overlord- the big brother of a state. Hargreaves is a superb writer, but he can only scratch the surface of a vast ocean of a topic and the gift of these very short introductions is the desire to learn more - to find out the truth of the situation and the fact of the matter. Journalism may not be quite as “exciting” as reality television or the latest celebrity weight-loss fad. But it is riveting, challenging, rewarding, devastating, insulting, adoring and - above all - the job I wouldn’t swap for the world. Hargreaves has started you thinking. Now, go and buy a newspaper.

-- Reviewed by Marty Drury on 11/11/2005

Further Information
ISBN-10: 0192806564
ISBN-13: 9780192806567
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 15/09/2005
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 172

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