Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment
by Darrell M. West.
I'm using this book as the cornerstone of my Rhetoric 309 class here at UT-Austin. Though this book is aimed at the undergraduate textbook market, it is well written and accessible for the modern reader. I doubt a better, more concise history of the news media exists today.
This tome should be required reading for everyone interested in the debates over media bias or the quality of news reporting in general. This book traces the American news media from the early days of the partisan press that existed before and after the revolutionary war, through the days of a switch to a commercially based media, up to today's "fragmented media" (as West terms it).
In this book, West succinctly shows where our idea of an "objective" news media comes from, and shows that this idea is of (relatively) recent vintage and is an almost purely American ideal (for example, in Europe the news media is often openly partisan and proud of it).
The last chapter suggests possible directions for the future of the news media. Despite the fact this book came out before blogs took off, he is amazingly prescient.
This book has a very neutral tone - West (mostly) avoids making value judgments. There's fodder in here for all sides of the debates over the current state of the news media. This is the rarest of rare books on the news media - one that is objective, informative and useful.