Review: Get Me A Murder A Day! A History of Media and Communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams

A classic from the Journalism bookshelf review by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I have not selected this book as this edition’s classic text, my students have.

Get Me A Murder A Day is not the most in-depth, analytical or opinionated history of journalism available, indeed it’s not even a specific history of journalism, embracing as it does media and communication, including non-news broadcasting and cinema.

But year after year students find it and stick with it because they find it to be easily the most accessible and useful history of their subject.

And this is important because though lecturers see the value of studying the history of journalism as part of their degree, most students, if given a truth pill, would tell you this isn’t what they signed up for, it was the sexy stuff – writing stories, presenting shows and the buzz of bringing in the story – they wanted from their degree.

Author Kevin Williams seems to have written his now classic text with this in mind and I’ve lost count of the students who have told me how much they had enjoyed this book, often reading on way beyond what they needed for a specific essay or presentation. This book inspires students to get interested in journalism history, and in so doing allows them to appreciate the full context of journalism. That interest will develop through their degree, often concluding with a satisfying dissertation on a weighty historical topic.

Williams is an arch advocate of the importance of media history and has done much to raise its profile and inspire others. His later volume, Read All About It!, is an accomplished narrower history of newspapers, which is equally interesting. But it is as a first year-orientated introductory text that GMAMAD must be celebrated, with its logically divided chapters which must have helped form the parameters of dozens of Media/Journalism context modules in universities up and down the UK.

Williams’ style is to present key information in easily digestible chunks, typically around an hour’s worth of reading, arousing the reader’s interest with description and specifics of note, before offering useful and succinct analysis. He brings alive the importance, excitement and big personalities of journalism.

He is not as opinionated as other texts, which is useful for students trying to simply understand the landscape for the first time, rather than finding a detailed critique. We are fortunate to have Curran and Seaton’s Power Without Responsibility to perform that function and indeed a recommendation of GMAMAD, followed by PWR often forms the bedrock reading for a decent first university essay.

Williams updated GMAMAD in 2010, to take a much-needed look at standards and the digital landscape, but the original 1998 edition, which lines so many university library shelves, is still just as useful on historical content and so, happily, is not a first edition made obsolete by its successor.

The obvious drawbacks for journalism lecturers and students are the regular excursions into the history of cinema and other entertainment media, which disrupt the flow of the journalism narrative. But even that can be useful for students in setting some of the wider context of mass communications in the UK, and as this book is intended for this wider audience, it can’t be a legitimate criticism.

So here we don’t have the most critical or insightful journalism text ever written, but we do have the book which in its interesting style and accessible format provides the most popular available entry to the context of our subject and as the book that lets our students delve deeper into their new subject and inspire further inquiry, does both them and us a great service.

Get Me A Murder A Day! A history of media and communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams, 2nd ed published by Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. 336 pages. ISBN 978-0- 3409-8325-6; RRP: £21.99. 

Reviews welcome

by reviews editor Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Welcome to the reviews section of this the third edition of the most interesting and useful new journalism journal on the block. This time we are continuing to focus very clearly on books which we hope will be immediately useful for lecturers and students – particularly Journalism degree students.

What Do we Mean by Local? was the latest of John Mair and his collaborators’ ‘hackademic’ series when it appeared a year ago and is a welcome addition to the thin ranks of useful texts on the regional and local press in the UK. Its vast array of contributors and topics should make it indispensible for researchers and students studying this area.

Specialist roles in journalism have grown incredibly over the last 20 years, so Barry Turner and Richard Orange’s edited collection on that theme will again be useful to students exploring these areas.

Stalwart AJE member and prolific author Tony Harcup has encapsulated his long-standing interest in alternative journalism in a new text and in today’s environment of diverse platforms, there can’t be a better time for students to get to grips with this topic.

And despite all the doom and gloom in newspapers, the magazine sector remains vibrant. So who better than Jenny McKay, co-editor of this journal and author of the acclaimed Magazines Handbook, to offer a verdict on the latest work in this field?

The history of journalism doesn’t miss out in this section either, with Kevin Williams’ invaluable history of our whole sector joining the ranks of the classics from the journalism bookshelf.

The editors and I are very grateful to all our reviewers for their contributions this time and in the previous editions, but we are all very conscious of how busy everyone is these days and we have called in many of the favours we have accrued over the years to fill the first three reviews sections with interesting and relevant titles from authoritative reviewers. So we would repeat our appeal for colleagues to volunteer to review books or vol- unteer books for review and suggest classics from the journalism bookshelf for the next edition, compilation of which has already begun.

Anyone with an interest in reviewing for this section will be warmly welcomed. Please contact any of the editors or Tor Clark if you would like to get involved.