7 books that journalists working online should read?

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While it’s one thing to understand interactive storytelling, community management, or the history of online journalism, the changes that are affecting journalism are wider than the industry itself. So although I’ve written previously on essential books about online journalism, I wanted to also compile a list of books which I think are essential for those wanting to gain an understanding of wider dynamics affecting the media industries and, by extension, journalism.

These are books that provide historical context to the hysteria surrounding technologies; that give an insight into the cultural movements changing society; that explore key philosophical issues such as privacy; or that explore the commercial dynamics driving change.

But they’re just my choices – please add your own.

1. The Master Switch – Tim Wu

The best mainstream history of media technologies I’ve certainly read (although Winston’s ‘Media, Technology and Society‘ is very good too, if a more academic read). Wu tells the story of how radio, film, television and other media technologies went through a consistent path from ‘democratised technologies’ to media monopolies.

It’s a salutary tale for those who think the internet is different. If it is, then it will need to avoid the mistakes made by regulators, legislators and inventors. And those who don’t learn from history…

2. The Information – James Gleick

An astonishing masterwork that begins with why African talking drums were so wordy (it’s all about redundancy), takes in genetics, code-breaking and quantum physics, and in the process draw some very useful lessons about the changing nature of communication and information that help you take a step back from our own assumptions.

3. The Pirate’s Dilemma – Matt Mason

This covers the histories that lie behind the rise of mashups, guerilla marketing, and other cultural movements. A valuable lesson on where to look for change, and how that movements themselves change as different groups adopt their ideas. The book is available as a free download at http://thepiratesdilemma.com/, as is Lawrence Lessig’s book exploring similar themes, Free Culture.

4. The Wealth of Networks – Yochai Benkler

Widely recognised as the most comprehensive book on network dynamics. Given that these are so integral to everything that takes place online, that makes this a pretty vital book. And this is not just about online networks: the book draws on research into real world networks and communities and where they succeed and fail – vital foundations for any online project.

5. The Spy in the Coffee Machine – O’Hara & Shadbolt

A compact exploration of privacy in the networked age, and how digital technologies are impacting on that. Particularly useful are the passages that explore different cultures’ attitudes to privacy, and the case studies that help the reader explore the ethical issues raised by recent developments and technological possibilities.

6. Search Engine Society – Alexander Halavais

Another compact book, this explores research around how people use search engines, including some types of behaviour that you would not otherwise think about, such as the importance of re-finding, and different types of search literacy. Useful in understanding how people navigate the virtual world.

7. Creative Disruption – Simon Waldman

Although there are many books exploring the successes of new digital businesses, Simon Waldman’s book attempts something much more difficult: looking at how established businesses have tried to adapt to survive in the midst of great change. The book is very well written and does a particularly good job of explaining the various elements that form the basis of any business’s competitive advantage; how the internet changes those; and methods that have been used to respond. It’s a welcome reminder that, like any business, publishing is not just about content, but advertising, distribution, manufacturing and numerous other factors too.

A good book on the legal or political history would be particularly welcome to add to the list – or just something very good that I’ve never heard of. What books would you add?


25 thoughts on “7 books that journalists working online should read?

  1. Daniel Bentley

    I’d add Mediactive by Dan Gillmor to the list. It discusses a lot of issues around community management, comment moderation and how users/readers can inform the story. Some other great stuff in there too.

  2. Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer

    I would add Gatewatching by Axel Bruns (2005). Even though the examples given in the book seem a little dated (Indymedia, Plastic, kuro5hin, etc.), the general outline is visionary and at the same time astonishingly precise.

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Ah, that gets left out because it’s already no.1 on my list of essential journalism-related books for online journalists (linked at the start). But yes, I agree it’s a great book.

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  4. Dan Thornton

    Good choices, and the comments have covered most of my personal recommendations. I’d also put in Tribes by Seth Godin as concise inspiration to take a lead in creating communities, and from a timely slightly political and legal perspective, something like The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling – it may have been written quite a while ago, but the issues over hacking and data are still relevant, and it gives a great grounding in the philosophies of people working on both sides of the law, plus an example of how companies can accidentally get caught in the crossfire.

  5. Abraham Hyatt

    It doesn’t have to do with journalism specifically, but I would add Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. It’s a great read if you’re trying to create fundamental change in an organization or a newsroom.

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  8. Peter Krass

    I suggest adding: Newsonomics: Twelve new trends that will shape the news you get, by Ken Doctor. Published in early 2010, and still quite relevant.

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Yes, I like Ken’s work – although this list was trying to identify specifically non-journalistic books.

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  11. Bas Timmers

    Great list. I would add Where good ideas come from by Steven Berlin Johnson. he looks at the key factors for generating great ideas. very inspiring.

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  13. Darren Anthony Tynan

    I have two recommened books for our journalist Dot.Cons by Yvonne Jewkes this book is a must read it debates of the Internet Crime that is happing all around us, it states on Identity Fraud and I hope that we can stop the criminals in the futura from getting at the peoples identity and being able to use it on credit cards.
    Handbook of Internet Crime by Yvonne Jewkes and Majid Yar this is another great book to read for the budding journalist this book is a very thick book and has every thing to do with Internet Crime on Chapter 111 there is a very good section on Internet Law and Regulation. I bourght these two books for myself for reference material.

  14. Darren Anthony Tynan

    I have another great book for any journalist Titel Journalism Principles and Practice by Tony Harcup, this book has everything in it from beginner right through to Investigative Journalist.
    Investigative Journalist is what I would like to be in the near futura because I like to write and I like to travel to different parts of the world especially being an investigative journalist on board cruise liners sounds fantastic.

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  16. abhi

    detail of a good book for aspiring journalism/masscomm students/interns. “Nuances of Journalistic Writings” (by Raza Elahi, a senior journalist).It is also a good book for those in the business of communication. to buy it, email at mediahive1(AT)gmail(DOT)com OR visit mediahive(dot)co(dot)in

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