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December 22, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:32am

The best (non-fiction) books about journalism: From Harold Evans to Emily Maitlis

By Freddy Mayhew

We’ve compiled a list of the best non-fiction books about journalism based on our own and readers’ recommendations.

It’s a (mostly true) cliché that every journalist wants to write a book. But as much as journalists enjoy talking about their own industry, there are surprisingly few key texts that seek to tackle it as a subject.

Nonetheless with some journalists going on to find fame and break stories that can come to define a generation, there is no shortage of sought-after memoirs and biographies of the biggest names in the business.

We begin with the books no journalist can do without (besides a dictionary of course)…


McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists – Mark Hanna, Mike Dodd

The journalists’ bible, seen on desks in newsrooms up and down the country. No reporter or editor should be without one.

Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers  – Harold Evans

How to write like a reporter from one of the giants of the news industry.

Waterhouse on Newspaper Style – Keith Waterhouse

First published in 1989 (and republished in 2010), Daily Mirror journalist Keith Waterhouse’s book has become the standard text for tabloid journalism – encouraging reporters to drop the “tabloidese”. It’s a fantastic read for anyone who wants to write more clearly.

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Waterhouse: “When Sam Goldwyn advised that cliches should be avoided like the plague, he forgot that the plague, by its very nature, is almost impossible to avoid. That is what gave the Black Death such a bad name.

“Cliches should be avoided by writers in general because reach-me-down phraseology has no place in original prose. They should be avoided by journalists in particular because it is the tendency of cliches to generalise, approximate or distort.”

Essential Public Affairs for Journalists – James Morrison

Everything journalists ought to know about how local and national government works.

Other handy texts include:

  • A Bluffer’s Guide to Journalism – Susan Boniface
  • Essential Reporting: The NCTJ Guide for Trainee Journalists – Jon Smith
  • NCTJ Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists – Marie Cartwright
  • Fowler’s Modern English

On the news industry

Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now – Alan Rusbridger

The long-serving former Guardian editor gets to grips with the big issues facing the news industry in the digital age.

Flat Earth News – Nick Davies

Davies declares the news industry a “corrupt profession” in this exposé of its inner workings.

My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism – Andrew Marr

Marr tells the story of modern journalism through his own experiences in both print and broadcast.

Hack Attack – Nick Davies

A full account of the phone-hacking scandal that shook the news industry and led to the closure of the News of the World, told by the man who broke the story.

Man Bites Talking Dog – Colin Dunne

A book about Fleet Street in its heyday during the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Reporting the Troubles: Journalists tell their stories of the Northern Ireland conflict – Deric Henderson and Ivan Little
  • Stick It Up Your Punter! The Uncut Story of the Sun Newspaper – Chris Horrie and Peter Chippendale
  • Mail Men: The Unauthorized Story of the Daily Mail – Adrian Addison
  • The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times – Gay Talese
  • Tickle The Public: One Hundred Years of the Popular Press – Matthew Engel

Memoirs / Biographies

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin – Lindsey Hilsum

An intimate biography of renowned Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, written by her friend and peer.

Editor: An Inside Story of Newspapers – Max Hastings

Hastings’ candid memoirs of his time as Daily Telegraph editor, from 1986 to 1995, published in 2002, the same year he retired as Evening Standard editor where he moved after leaving the Telegraph.

Airhead – Emily Maitlis

The Newsnight big-hitter takes us behind the scenes covering some of the biggest stories in recent years and offers up an insight into her own psyche.

A Day Like Today – John Humphrys

Humphrys spent 32 years reporting for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and became renowned for his tough interview style. This book covers his life, his work, and his thoughts on the news industry, in his own words.

A Life in Questions – Jeremy Paxman

Must-read memoir from the BBC Rottweiler.

Panic as Man Burns Crumpets: The Vanishing World of the Local Journalist – Roger Lytollis

To tell the story of the decline of the local news industry we rely largely on anecdotal evidence, and there is none better than this equally hilarious and heartbreaking memoir of an award-winning local press features writer.

[Read more: Giving away news online didn’t pay and led to print slump, says ex-local journalist behind new memoir]

Bulletins from Dallas: Reporting the JFK Assassination – Bill Sanderson

The full story of the how Pulitzer Prize-winner Merriman Smith broke the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963.

All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

The men behind the scoop that brought down a president, Woodward and Bernstein tell all about the Watergate Scandal. Their story was immortalised in the film of the same name, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Personal History – Katherine Graham

The woman who led the Washington Post through the twin scandals of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate tells her story, which inspired the film The Post starring Meryl Streep as Graham.

Good Times, Bad Times – Harold Evans

In his memoirs, Evans tells the inside story of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Times and the media mogul’s rise to power.

Fall – John Preston

The author behind A Very English Scandal takes us on a survey of the many faces of former Mirror proprietor (and plunderer) Robert Maxwell: anti-Nazi war hero, MP, gambler, abuser, spy, child, cheat. Published in early 2021, the book also contains plenty of context for anyone following the Maxwell clan today: the boat depicted on its cover is, after all, the Lady Ghislaine.

  • Ink in the Blood: Memoirs of a Regional Newspaperman – Barrie Williams
  • The Bootle Boy – Les Hinton

Also recommended

  • Romps, Tots and Boffins: The Strange Language of News – Robert Hutton
  • We Are Arrested: A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison – Can Dündar
  • The News: A User’s Manual – Alain de Botton
  • Move Fast and Break Things – Jonathan Taplin
  • Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women – Edited by Eleanor Mills
  • Acid Attack: A Journalist’s War With Organised Crime – Russell Findlay

If there is a great journalism book we’ve missed out, please email for possible inclusion in this list.

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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