Significant Journalism and Communication Books of the Twentieth Century

By Poindexter, Paula M.; Folkerts, Jean | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Significant Journalism and Communication Books of the Twentieth Century


Poindexter, Paula M., Folkerts, Jean, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Since it was first established in 1924 as The Journalism Bulletin, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly has reviewed more than S,000 books and announced the publication of another 30,000 titles. Some of the journalism and communication titles published during the twentieth century clearly deserve a permanent place in libraries and on students and faculty reading lists. Other books made important statements in the context of the time they were published, but had little staying power.

As we anticipate a new century and the start of a new millennium, it's interesting to reflect on significant journalism and communication books of the twentieth century. One noted communication scholar questioned the legitimacy of singling out important twentieth-century books. "We're a field governed by journal articles-not books," he said. After only a moment's pause, however, he nominated four books for the list.

Books have often been characterized as the print medium that is chiefly responsible for passing on social heritage. They have been regarded as more permanent than other forms of print, although mass communication scholars can testify to the endurance of articles such as D.M. White's "Gatekeeper" article that appeared in Journalism Quarterly in 1950.

In evaluating books, we did not attempt to establish an arbitrary top ten or twenty, but rather to ask-and attempt to answer-these questions. What journalism and communication books have left a lasting imprint? Which books are classics and should be read by each incoming class of journalism and communication students? What books published during the twentieth century deserve a prominent place in a twenty-first-century library?

To develop a list of significant books of the twentieth century, the editor of Journalism fa Mass Communication Quarterly invited members of AEJMC to nominate books. Concurrently, the book review editor sent letters to previous reviewers requesting nominations. During the 1999 AEJMC Convention, fliers were distributed, division heads were notified, and the JMCQ editorial board was informed that a list of the most important books of our field was being compiled. All were encouraged to nominate books and provide a rationale for their nominations. The JMCQ editor, book review editor, and a book selection committee selected books for the final list.

The list reflects the diversity of the field of journalism and mass communication. Academic and professional perspectives are represented. The list also reveals that no one approach dominates the field. Investigative journalism and case studies, historical research and quantitative studies, research syntheses and opinion essays, and commission reports and compilations are included on the list

Some of the books, such as Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion (1922), are on the list because they captured the essence of the media as an institution intimately connected to a great democratic experiment; Lippmann's work influenced a generation of communication scholars. In a personal memoir, Wilbur Schramm described Lippmann as a journalist who thought like a scholar. Schramm, whose work is cited here, said Public Opinion was one of the most useful books that modern communication students inherited from an earlier generation of scholars. Maxwell McCombs of Texas at Austin, who co-authored a groundbreaking agenda-setting study that appears here and that influenced a generation of media effects research, said Lippmann's Public Opinion inspired the agenda-setting studies.

The recounting of the investigation of the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 was also selected for the list of significant journalism and communication books of the century. The investigative work of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, which forever changed presidential politics, also influenced countless young people to choose journalism as a field of study and a career. …

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