Freshly Pressed: Five Great Novels of the Reporter's Art
This month's Rediscovered Classic is Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning, which is one of my favourite journalism novels; but there are dozens more I've read over the years that have both amused and delighted me.
There's something about a newsroom that seems to attract eccentric characters, making the whole business of producing newspapers and magazines ripe for comedy and satire. Indeed, as a journalist myself, I’ve worked with many of them.
Here are five novels about journalism that I highly recommend:
The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee
This delightfully fun and adroit novel pits two female journalists against each other: Honor Tait a highly regarded veteran war correspondent whose career has drawn to a close, and Tamara Sim, a young and tenacious tabloid reporter who is sent to interview Honor for a glossy magazine supplement. A comedy of errors ensues as Tamara tries to write the best feature she possibly can in order to make a name for herself, while Honor tries her best to avoid the possibility of any dirt being dug up. This is a terrific account of journalistic tricks and the generation gap writ large.
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
In McEwan’s 1998 Booker Prize-winning novel, a newspaper editor tries to revive a flagging career and a dive in circulation figures by publishing a series of photographs that could bring down a politician. A searing tongue-in-cheek account of journalistic ethics before the internet took over, it’s also a terrific comedy about middle-aged men who will do almost anything to kick-start, or cling onto, stalled careers.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Set in 1980s New York, this story about a young man working in the fact-checking department of a highbrow magazine is a brilliant black comedy about journalism and office life. But as our narrator lurches from one crisis to another, it also highlights how important it is to find meaningfulness in our work, play and relationships.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
A fascinating potted history of the newspaper game, this 'novel' is actually 11 interlinked short stories focusing on the employees of an English-language newspaper in Rome. It includes everyone from the corrections editor to the news editor, but my favourite chapters focus on a highly experienced Paris correspondent, who is so desperate to earn a commission he fabricates a lead story, and the obituary writer, sidelined in his career, who doesn’t recover his motivation until someone close to him dies. This is a brilliant satire on journalism with just a touch of too-close-for-comfort realism.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
A classic of the genre, and the one that is consistently billed as the 'funniest novel about journalism', Waugh's tale follows the farcical adventure of William Boot, who is mistaken for an eminent writer, and is sent off to a fictional African country to report on a 'little known war' for the Daily Beast. With no journalistic training and far out of his depth, Boot struggles to comprehend what it is he is being paid to do and makes one blunder after another all in the pursuit of hot news. One word: hilarious.