Here Comes 2008’s Most Influential Writing About Media

I recently asked, via this blog, LinkedIn and Twitter, for thoughts on the year’s most influential books, articles and blog posts. (Last year’s list led with Tim Wu and Yochai Benkler.) The most mentioned piece was Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. Kyle Reis’ comment was typical: “I tell everybody I know they should read this book;” Martin Moore said the book did a “great job of bringing out some of the political implications of our technical revolution.”

Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media received several citations, particularly from across the pond. Charlie Beckett, who posted his full list at his blog, “passionately disagree[d] with Nick’s assumptions,” but thought the book “proved that people still care about the quality of journalism in the UK.” Moore wrote that Flat Earth News “created enough heated debate this side of the Atlantic to last through to the launch of the paperback next year.” Beckett also liked Adrian Monck’s Can You Trust the Media, calling it” the most honest book about journalism, (‘no you can’t and you never could,’ is his answer)” and Adaptive Path’s Subject to Change. Beckett’s own book, SuperMedia was included on several lists, as was Charlie Leadbeaters’ We Think, which, according to Moore, “helped advance the forward march of networked media.” (I like its first line: “If you are not perplexed, you should be.”)

The Berkman Center is always well-represented on this list. Many of you mentioned Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop ItBorn Digital by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser; and Access Denied, co-authored by Palfrey and Zittrain. Others pointed to Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, particularly his thoughts on xenophilia and homophily. (This post and this Christian Science Monitor article are good starting points.)

The biggest story of the year, on this blog, at least, was the Obama campaign. Palfrey pointed to the MyBarackObama.com phenomena as a key story. While MyBO was largely built in 2007, beginning on January 3, the Obama team managed to tie its technological innovation to tangible on-the-ground successes. Another Berkmanite, Gene Koo, was praised for his post My.BarackObama.com as Augmented Reality Game. For my part, the best reporting on the electoral ground game can be seen in Sean Quinn and Brett Marty‘s On the Road reports for 538.com– the look at Western Pennsylvania particularly stood out. Also noteworthy was this piece by Zack Exley.

Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks and Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, perennially appear on this list. Pat Aufderheide went even further back in time this year, starting with Raymond Williams. “The entire conclusion of Culture & Society is required reading for anyone trying to figure out how digital tools can help support a more engaged public life,” she writes. (She cited this Williams quote: “In speaking of a common culture, one is asking, precisely, for that free, contributive and common process of participation in the creation of meanings and values.”) Pat also recommends William Caspary’s Dewey on Democracy, the new edition of Communication and Culture by Jim Carey and Arthur Bentley’s The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures. Jim Newcomb also went old school, highlighting “The Powers That Be” and “Where the Suckers Moon.”

My work colleague Valerie Chang mentioned Putnam along with:

· Millennial Makeover: My Space, YouTube and the Future of American Politics by Morley Winograd and Michael Hais. “Makes the case that the driving force behind each of the five major political realignments in US history has been the result of changes in generational size and attitudes and contemporaneous advances in communication technologies. They argue that the current Millennial generation….and the rise of new peer-to-peer communication and social networking technologies is likely to result in the next political realignment.”

· The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies by Scott E. Page. “In essence, diversity is powerful and it should get at least equal billing with ability.”


Brian Newman of the Tribeca Film Festival enjoyed Kevin Kelly’s “Better than Free” blog post (which grew into this, “the single best advice for film/video folks this year;” Delusions of Net Neutrality(PDF); and Anita Elberse’s article on the Long Tail in Harvard Business Review. (“It doesn’t so much debunk as refine [the long tail concept]. And it has some fascinating nuggets for filmmakers.”) Dan O’Neil liked Tim O’Reilly’s Web Meets World “Stop Throwing Sheep” talk and blog posts. “O’Reilly has basically been on this riff all year — do something important rather than dumb things that you hope make money.” Luke Haynes pointed out Virginia Heffernan’s Content and Its Discontent. Persephone Miel liked Wally Dean’s We Interrupt this Newscast and David Cohn mentioned Sarah Lacy’s Once You’re Lucky – Twice You’re Good. Daithi Mac Sithigh recommends Des Freedman’s “The Politics of Media Policy” and “Networked Publics,” edited by Kazys Varnelis. Silvia Rivera pointed to the founding of the New Nation Media Group, and Xiao Qiang flagged Manuel Castells’ paper, Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. (Castells’ upcoming book Communication Power is a prime early candidate to appear on the 2009 list, as are Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything and Tim Wu’s forthcoming book.)

Other books mentioned include Groundswell, Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. (Gladwell’s appearance on Charlie Rose last week is worth a gander– despite Rose’s maddening need to interject constantly. Does anyone else manage to get such good guests while being such a horrible interlocutor?) William New of IP Watch recommended James Boyle’s The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.” (On the Media interviewed Boyle earlier this month.)

Thank you to all who took the time to share their favorites; I’ll follow up later this week with my own list.

7 thoughts on “Here Comes 2008’s Most Influential Writing About Media

  1. Thanks for the great list! I will certainly refer to it as I finalize my syllabus for a class this spring (see link). I will also be curious to see which books you ultimately recommend as your favorites… Thanks again for the info.

  2. John. Great idea. What it’s worth I think that Matthew Hindman’s book “The Myth of Digital Democracy” will end up being the most influential work written this year.

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