Top 100 works of 20th century American journalism
The idea of sharing pertinent information with other members of society is not a new one. Journalism can be tracked back to 59 BCE in ancient Rome: The “Acta Diurna” was published and presented daily to inform the public of daily events or speeches. Not every country has embraced a free press, however, and journalists in some countries put their lives on the line to share the facts with their communities.
Journalists are often criticized for their callousness, insensitivity, or perceived bias, but it’s likely the majority of people who choose the profession got into it for honorable reasons, especially considering pay is generally average, and hours can sometimes be inflexible. Regardless of their motivations—perceived or otherwise—journalists have shaped the national conversation time and time again through their efforts.
To examine the influence of journalism in the U.S., Stacker looked to New York University’s 1999 list of the top 100 works of journalism of the 20th century. To develop this list, 17 outside judges were chosen to work with the faculty of the university's department of journalism to determine each piece’s significance. Mitchell Stephens, acting chairman of the group, noted that the list was not intended to be the “last word on the subject.” Instead, the list is an opportunity to discuss excellence in journalism, especially “at a time when journalism’s failings receive most of the attention.”
Read on to learn of the top 100 works of American journalism in the 20th century.
#100. "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"
Writer: Hunter S. Thompson
Year: Book, 1973
Hunter S. Thompson authored "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72," the pages of which are filled with Thompson’s observations regarding the 1972 presidential campaign that Richard Nixon ultimately won. More than four decades later, Thompson’s work “is still considered a kind of bible of political reporting.”
#99. "The Selling of the President 1968"
Writer: Joe McGinniss
Author Joe McGinniss’ work,"The Selling of the President, 1968," focused on how the advertising team of President Richard Nixon transformed his public image from “an ugly, boring, cold man,” to a “good and decent man.” This expose highlighted just how influential a well-crafted image can be in political campaigning.
#98. Crime reporting
Writer: Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon made a name for himself as a sportswriter for a Hearst-run publication when he moved from Denver to New York in 1910. He eventually became known for “his vivid accounts of the shady characters who haunted its streets, arenas, racetracks, and speakeasies,” according to The Denver Press Club. Runyon also covered the trial for Ruth Snyder and her lover, Henry Judd Gray, who together murdered Snyder’s husband on March 20, 1927. Runyon named the case the “Dumbbell Murders.”
#97. Columns on race during his tenure as editor of The Crisis
Writer: W.E.B. DuBois
While on leave from his teaching post at Atlanta University, from 1910 to 1934, W.E.B. DuBois worked as the founding editor for The Crisis, the official publication for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). DuBois, the only African-American on the NAACP’s original executive board, believed social science could help solve the civil rights crisis, and spent these years “sharing the intellectual and artistic work of people of color.”
#96. "Personal History"
Writer: Vincent Sheean
“Personal History” is the memoir of Vincent Sheean, who was hired by the Chicago Tribune in 1922 for a role now known as a foreign correspondent. The memoir, which journalist John Maxwell Hamilton called “a tutorial in world news,” is about the first decade Sheean spent stationed in Paris.
#95. "Angela's Ashes"
Writer: Frank McCourt
"Angela's Ashes" is the memoir of a man born to poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, during the Great Depression. Frank McCourt tells the story of his survival after he, at age 4, returned to Limerick, Ireland with his family. McCourt moved back to America at age 18, published his first book at 66 years old, and was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in Biography only one year later.
#94. "The Politics of Memory"
#93. "Notre Dame's 'Four Horsemen'"
Writer: Grantland Rice
Following a notable victory for the Notre Dame football team in 1924, New York Herald Tribune sports writer Grantland Rice penned “Four Horsemen,” a relatively short set of lines known as “the most famous passage in sports journalism.” Rice begins, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.” The iconic photograph shows the quartet of backfielders on an actual horse, which was coordinated after Rice’s words were published.
#92. Photograph of a Saigon execution
Writer: Eddie Adams and Vo Suu
Standing on the streets of Saigon in 1968, Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams pressed his shutter at the very second a South Vietnam police chief pulled the trigger and shot a Vietcong prisoner in the head. Time named this image one of history’s 100 most influential photos—it “showed the [Vietnam] war’s brutality in a way Americans hadn’t seen before.”
#91. "The Europeans"
Writer: Jane Kramer
Another collection of 30 essays by The New Yorker’s Jane Kramer, “Europeans” won the Prix Européen de l’Essai “Charles Veillon” and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle nonfiction award. The essays were pulled from Kramer’s regular column, “Letter from Europe,” which she has written since 1981.2018 All rights reserved.