Here's my personal list of the five best books about – or of value for – public relations students and practitioners published in 2010. Notes and further discussion follow at the end.
1. Mediactive by Dan Gillmor (Lulu.com / Kindle / Online)
Had this book been published traditionally, it would have had a 2011 publication year. In the event, Dan Gillmor (author of We The Media) chose to self-publish as he wanted to make his ideas available more widely through a Creative Commons licence.
Since his topic is the pressing need for change in the media industries, this is an example of the medium being the message. Nor does he pretend this book is complete, as is usually expected from published works. He describes it as a work in progress – Mediactive 1.0 – supported by the updates and discussion at the mediactive.com website, where the full text is freely available.
Gillmor begins with a critique of traditional journalism and an analysis of the evolving media ecosystem and moves on to provide a manifesto for media literacy ('mediactivism') suitable for the new media age.
Though he barely mentions public relations, his thoughts apply to all media consumers and media content creators (ie to all of us) and core concepts such as trust and transparency are central to public relations practice.
Gillmor now teaches entrepreneurial journalism and educators like me will find his ideas applicable to their teaching (there's a chapter on 'Teaching and Learning Mediactivity').
UPDATE: I've reviewed Mediactive for Behind the Spin.
2. The 21st Century Media (R)evolution, Jim Macnamara (Peter Lang)
Macnamara's book is a scholarly counterpart to Gillmor's manifesto (the latter just gains top place in my list because it's written to appeal to a wider audience).
Those wanting to understand the major trends in the media, society and politics will value Macnamara's scholarship (I counted 45 closely-typed pages of references), though the author thought I was being ungracious in pointing out several minor errors in my review.
3. The Yahoo! Style Guide, Chris Barr et al, Macmillan
This book's subtitle is 'the ultimate sourcebook for writing, editing, and creating content for the digital world'. That's not quite right. Though it does all that's claimed of it, I have reached a belated realisation that we don't need a style guide for online content. We need a style guide for all of our writing – and this one could be it.
The lessons of good style are universal and any text telling Americans to prefer 'use' to 'utilize' clearly has wider value. The digital-only sections, such as the one on writing for search engine optimisation, can be viewed as adding value to the core lessons in clear writing and accurate editing.
The size and format of an old-style software manual, this book provides copious examples, is amazing value for money – and a surprising reminder of the continuing value of print.
4. PR: Strategy and Application, Timothy Coombs and Sherry Holladay (Wiley-Blackwell)
I'm an admirer of the same authors' previous work, an elegant essay defending public relations as a socially responsible activity, and was at first disappointed to find that their follow-up was a conventional textbook.
Yet it's an important and timely textbook that marks the point at which public relations scholars have finally broken free of the so-called Grunigian paradigm (symmetry and excellence). For this book unashamedly proclaims that 'public relations does seek to persuade people' (in his intellectually agile attempts to distance public relations from propaganda, Professor Grunig had suggested that persuasion was unethical).
The authors are alert to global perspetives, and are strong on corporate and strategic public relations, so this will become an established text for advanced students.
5. Globish, Robert McCrum, Penguin Viking
What has this book to do with public relations? Nothing directly, but everything indirectly. Language is an important component in communication and the book explains why English has become the world's language (and isn't likely to be displaced in this role by Mandarin Chinese).
English, McCrum argues on historical grounds, is the language of liberty. Though academics are rightly keen to explore different global perspectives on the practice, there's no denying the historical connection between Anglo-American political, business and media models, the English language, and the rise of public relations. So that's why I recommend this book to PR students and practitioners.
I had previously published my long list of ten books under consideration for this personal list. It's my list – and I make my own rules. But I'm broadly responding to those books with a 2010 publication date that I've read this year (I buy most with my own money). There's much selection and subjectivity in this – and even more in the final list published here.
I've dropped some useful textbooks from my final list, but also some popular business books. I had thought I favoured well-written business books over densely-referenced academic texts (my first and second places certainly suggest this), but this year I've been frustrated by the lack of context in some popular business books. That said, I remain disappointed by the cost and inaccessibility of some traditional academic publishing, and part of my bias in favour of Mediactive is its challenge to the status quo.
Looking ahead, here are some titles that I'm looking forward to reviewing for my 2011 list. I hope there will be many additions and surprises through the year.
- Katie Paine: Measure What Matters
- Nilanjana Bardhan: Public Relations in Global Cultural Contexts
- Ann Handley and CC Chapman: Content Rules
- Danny Moss and Barabara DeSanto: Public Relations – A Managerial Perspective
I welcome news and suggestions from authors, publishers and readers – and also hope to increase the number of book reviews published at Behind the Spin with the help of our newly-appointed books editor, Clare Siobhan Callery.