Second Read: Writers Look Back at Classic Works of Reportage

By Bernt, Joseph | Journalism History, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Second Read: Writers Look Back at Classic Works of Reportage


Bernt, Joseph, Journalism History


Marcus, James, ed. Second Read: Writers Look Back at Classic Works of Reportage. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 208 pp. $24.50.

In 2004, the Columbia Journalism Review began a regular series under the standing head "Second Read" for which accomplished writers were asked to discuss works of journalism that motivated and influenced dieir writings. James Marcus, a former contributing editor of CJR and currently deputy editor ?? Harper's, along with the staff of CJR have selected twenty-three of these essays for inclusion in Second Read: Writers Look Back at Chssic Works of Reportage, beginning with the first in the series: Village Voice journalist Rick Perlstein's praise of Paul Cowan's 1979 The Tribes of America. In his introduction, Marcus notes it was Perlstein's contribution to "Second Reading" that led the New Press to reprint Cowan's forgotten but memorable classic.

Marcus hopes this collection of twentytwo other "works that have fallen victim to shifts in literary taste or ideological fashion" will lead to similar reprints. Actually, of the twenty-three essays on long-fot m journalism in Second Read, all but three are available currently in paperback editions, which is what makes this collection so valuable to media historians and journalism educators. The three are: Ben Yagoda's description of soldier-journalist Walter Bernstein's Keep Your Head Down and the reporting of World War II from the enlisted man's perspective; John Maxwell Hamilton's essay on Vincent Sheean's Personal History about events in his life as a foreign correspondent following World War I as Europe rushed toward another world war; and Thomas Malones analysis of William Manchester's detailed reporting in The Death of a President about the minutiae surrounding the assassination and the burial of President John F. Kennedy.

What Marcus and the CJR staff provide in Second Read justifies inclusion of far more journalistic content in journalism curricula, far broader education in reporting approaches, far more readings from the extensive history and literature of journalism in programs too focused on vocational howto skills and hands-on technology, and far greater emphasis on the reformist role that journalism of fact and opinion have played in oui civic life. The essays in this collection offer journalism educators a checklist of materialibr a course in the text-based history of long-fofrn reporting that has mattered to our twentieth-century national life, a course every bit as valuable to aspiring journalists and the survival of quality journalism as another course in writing for multiple platforms.

Second Read, with the exception of the odd inclusion of Nicholson Baker's essay on Daniel Defoe's 1 772 A Journal of the PUgue Year, reminds us of important journalists and their diverse approaches to reporting major events, cataclysms, and trends of the twentieth century. The essay by Dale Maharidge on James Agee's 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and his immersion into homes of Alabama sharecroppers and Claire Dederer s essay on Betty MacDonald's 1950 Anybody Can Do Anything and its account of ordinary life and survival in Seattle during the 1930s offer contrasting views of life during the depression. …

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