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. 

Review: Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange

by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I used to get a cheap laugh from students when introducing the craft of specialist journalism by telling them amongst the scores of fishing magazines there was even one called Total Carp.

They loved the concept so much one group even brought me a copy at the end of their module. Imagine my amazement (and horror) on a recent visit to my local newsagent to find no less than seven magazines for our carping piscatorial brethren enticing me from the shelves. If I can buy seven separate (and there are probably more…) magazines about one fish, the era of specialist journalism is truly well established.

Now thanks to Barry Turner and Richard Orange we have a useful and interesting edited collection from which our students can begin to study this now essential part of any Journalism course’s curriculum.

The editors’ introduction provides ample evidence of the need for specialism and indeed its value in a journalistic market which forever moves from the general and towards the specialist platform, with the rise of specialist newspaper sections, specialist magazines and of course every type of digital specialist facility.

An impressive range of authors describe specialisms ranging from the areas we might expect – sport, crime, politics, war – to others which have more recently elbowed their way into the mainstream, environmental, media and wine, for example. Other areas covered include business, automotive, fashion, food, science, medical, legal affairs and travel.

Contributions are knowledgeable and interesting, if a little uneven between their approaches, some favouring a more sociological analysis and others offering more in the how-to vein. The hugely informed Paul Bradshaw, for example, offers excellent pointers on how to cover the media beat using the very latest and most effective technologies, as those familiar with his work would expect. Other contributors tend more towards talking about the legitimacy and impact of the specialist, rather than how they actually do their job on a day-to day basis. This is hard one for the editors to handle because on the one hand this text will be a real bonus to students looking at specialism for an essay, dissertation or research project, but students trying to find their feet and possible future career specialism might have liked more on what the day-to-day work of a specialist actually involved – contacts, research, diary, sources etc.

Chapters were also of varying length, which left me longing for more on political journalism, where, for instance, Kevin Rafter dealt very well with Westminster lobby journalism, but didn’t have the space to develop his analysis into the rest of the vast area of political journalism outside that narrow village, but Paula Hearsum had space to include lots of insider comment on music journalism, in a chapter likely to be well-thumbed by students.

Given editor Orange is well known for his own agency work, I might also have hoped he would have offered a chapter on news agency journalism, a much under-exposed area, especially in post-Leveson times, but he took legal affairs journalism as his brief instead. No problem in itself, but perhaps a missed opportunity – or better still maybe a starter for volume two…

So overall, this will make a great impact on journalism courses across the UK and fits in well with the way the industry and its study is going. It is an interesting and useful addition to the journalism bookshelf and the university library, and though I do have a couple of little gripes, in the great scheme of the value of this book, they are certainly nothing to carp about. Recommended.

Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange, published by Routledge, 2013. 216 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-58285-8; RRP: £21.99.