Best Journalism Books For Aspiring Muckrakers

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For many, spring means the buzzing of the bees in the sycamore trees. By contrast, for me spring means a load of bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the season. The bullshit I am referring to is not related to the festive gaiety round the Maypole (though mental images of WASP gentility frolicking on the concourse is a tad nauseating). I’m talking about how spring inevitably finds the rich and powerful getting into scandals and compromising positions that are the perfect muck that we love to rake at Washington Babylon.

Furthermore, let’s not forget, this is an election year, meaning the bullshit is going to be especially rich this season. The primaries are sure to see plenty of skeletons pulled from political closets, rumors and lies being spread by everyone’s political campaign organizations, and so much more!

In anticipation, I wanted to suggest that aspiring writers check out two books that will prime you for when a killer scoop falls into your lap. (At which point we ask you contact us via ken@washingtonbabylon.com).

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking

Jessica Mitford was something of a news story in and of herself. Born of upper class British nobility, she and her sisters were their own miniature adventures. One became a member of the nobility, another bosom buddies with the upper echelons of the Nazi Party (including Hitler!), and Jessica, affectionately called Decca by intimates, was an adamant Communist who became a significant supporter of the American Civil Right movement. Here, she anthologized 16 of her best investigative journalism stories. What makes this book so useful is how every story is appended with a Comment that offers the aspiring reporter practical tips about accruing sources, prompting them to divulge secrets to you, and even how obscure industrial periodicals for morticians can tell you more about the business of funerals than any interview ever would. Part of Mitford’s success, of course, stemmed from her stage persona. On the page, she was one of the best scribes of her generation. In public, she carried on as if she were a scatterbrain. In other words, she knew how to bullshit.

The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect

Written by veteran journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, this is one of the finest instruction manuals for shoe leather journalists. Centered around Key Principles on everything from the meaning of journalism to how the profession has evolved in the internet era, it’s one of the best books on media since Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote Manufacturing Consent in 1988. It will stand for years as an essential desk reference, equivalent in value to the MLA style handbook for academics.

Enjoy and we hope to hear from you.

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