The Oxford Dictionary of Journalism by Tony Harcup

The Oxford Dictionary of Journalism by Tony Harcup

Review by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester.

Many moons ago, as I began my A levels in History and Politics, I was given the Penguin Dictionaries of Modern History and Twentieth Century History to complement my studies. I couldn’t put them down. I spent hours starting off reading entries in which I was already interested, then following the cross-references and discovering new facts, new characters or new events which I didn’t previously know about and then developing my knowledge around those areas by following the associated cross-references. Those dictionaries offered a fascinating adventure through modern politics and history, equipping me with a fascination and developing curiosity which helped me to succeed in the subjects by opening them up to me.

Thirty-odd years later Tony Harcup may have done the same for Journalism, in compiling an indispensable guide to all terms journalistic.

He was, of course, one of the authors of the Key Concepts in Journalism Studies (Franklin et al, 2005), which has been an invaluable reference tool for Journalism students ever since. This new dictionary should be seen a companion volume, rather than a competitor to that earlier text.

Our education starts from the word go, as we learn there is such a body as AAN, the Association of Alternative Newspapers, and continues through to Zoo, where we learn of the basic tactics this magazine used to lure young male readers. Along the way 1,400 terms are defined with key basic areas covered well, and other less known terms defined very succinctly.

But Harcup doesn’t stop with just defining terms, he includes a timeline of key journalistic events in his chronology, and concludes with an index of key people in journalism, from Max Aitken to Barbie Zelizer, which associates them with the key products, concepts, movements, issues or developments with which they were most closely associated.

Handily, as in the previous Key Concepts text, Harcup also offers readers further reading on the major terms and themes, and also offers more than 200 useful web links.

But he is keen to limit the scope of his new book, declaring that it is indeed a dictionary and not an encyclopaedia. It is a starting point for further study or investigation, as well as a handy and quick reference guide to the working student or journalist.

And he is happy to declare: “This is not an account driven by the ‘great men’ or ‘great women’ of journalism, so there are no biographical entries.” Though this does not damage the value of the content as it exists, it is perhaps an opportunity missed, as it is hard to study journalism’s rich context and history without knowing a bit about the character and motivations of key players such as Northcliffe, Hearst, Beaverbrook, Cudlipp, Murdoch, Mackenzie, Evans or Bradlee. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for a companion biographical dictionary of key figures from journalism?

Despite the personality cull, Harcup does include ‘Murdoch Empire’ and most of the above get worthy mention in the entries around the products or issues most associated with them.

Tony Harcup has been one of the most prolific authors of books, articles and journal papers of direct use to Journalism students in recent years and here we have a text which is destined to appear on many courses ‘buy before you arrive’ pre-reading lists because it will help many students who have never studied Journalism before become familiar with many of the key terms they will come across during their studies and long afterwards. It is a fascinating little book which lecturers will love thumbing through and students will find indispensable. Expect to see it on a reading list near you in the near future.

A Dictionary of Journalism by Tony Harcup Paperback: published by OUP 368

pages ISBN-10: 0199646244; ISBN-13: 978-0199646241 £10.39