Top 10 Famous Journalists Who Helped Shape History

Discover our guide with famous journalists whose work has propelled them into the public sphere, ensuring they are discussed amongst the world’s best journalists.

Journalists’ role in informing society and holding those in power accountable cannot be overstated. When done right, journalism is there to inform, enlighten, and provoke change. The best journalists work to keep those in positions of influence accountable.

In fact, that is why the medium of journalism is often referred to as the “fourth estate” and often held up as the fourth pillar of society, alongside the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in this specialist field, check out our article on how to write like a journalist.

10 Famous Journalists Whose Legacies Live On

Since the origins of pamphlets to the transformation to the digital age, journalists have changed how they gather and distribute news. These changes have allowed us to get closer to global stories and made household names of some prominent news gatherers.

From war correspondents who risked their lives on the frontline to investigative reporters who unraveled corruption, each journalist on our list has contributed to bringing the news into the nation’s homes. Once you have finished here, have a look at our guide to the best books on investigative journalism.

1. Walter Cronkite: The Most Trusted Voice

Walter Cronkite
Walter Cronkite was an American broadcast journalist and trusted public figure

Walter Cronkite was known as the ‘most trusted voice in America’ and what a voice it was, with his soothing baritone tones revealing the goings-on for millions of Americans. Born in 1916, he began his journalism career at the United Press before eventually transitioning to CBS News and becoming one of the most famous news anchors ever.

The news events he broke to the public read like a bullet-point history of the ’60s and ’70s. Among his most iconic reports were his emotional account of the JFK assassination, the moon landing, and his unwavering reporting on the Vietnam War.

Most famous work: Cronkite is most widely known for his coverage of major news stories like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Apollo 11 moon landing. He received a George Foster Peabody Award in 1968 for his coverage of the Apollo 11 mission.

2. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Unearthing Watergate

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are best known for their Watergate scandal coverage

Woodward and Bernstein weren’t household names when they broke the Watergate story in the early 1970s. Despite just being two young reporters, they were able to expose corruption within the Nixon administration, which eventually led to the then-US President’s resignation.

Their work demonstrated the importance of investigative journalism, keeping a check on those in power in the White House and ensuring that hidden truths are brought to light. Watergate is often cited when experts discuss the need for journalism to safeguard the foundations of democracy and protect the public interest.

Most famous work: They will always be remembered for their investigative reporting for The Washington Post that exposed the Watergate scandal. For this, they received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973.

3. Edward R. Murrow: Radio Waves of Change

Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow was a war correspondent and broadcast journalist

Edward R. Murrow is a vital name in the history of journalism. Born in 1908, he shared reports from London during World War II, uttering the iconic words “This is London” at the beginning of these.

Outside of reporting on the war, the American journalist also ran a brave exposé on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunts, which underscored journalism’s vital role in confronting abuses of power. By scrutinizing government actions and presenting facts without fear, he was part of a broadcast journalist who helped prevent the erosion of democratic institutions and ensure the well-being of society.

Most famous work: Renowned for his radio broadcasts during World War II, notably the series “This is London” and his exposé on Senator Joseph McCarthy.

4. Gloria Steinem: Championing Equality

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is recognized as the leader of second-wave feminism

If you are looking for a journalist who championed change and who was a contributor to gender equality, then look no further than Gloria Steinem. Born in 1934, Steinem started Ms. magazine (where she was editor-in-chief) and is widely remembered for exposing storytelling. 

One of her most renowned stories saw her highlighting what Playboy Bunnies went through and how this bred discrimination and inequality. She also contributed several articles to The New York Times and NBC News, particularly on issues related to feminism, women’s rights, and social justice.

Most famous work: Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine, focusing on women’s issues, and played a crucial role in the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

5. Hunter S. Thompson: The Gonzo Maverick

Hunter S. Thompso
Hunter S. Thompson founded the gonzo journalism movement

Thompson’s life was illuminated in the classic work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which displayed some of the writer’s madness. The Godfather of ‘gonzo journalism’ was more than capable of writing a critical essay, too, as his coverage of the 1972 Presidential campaign showcased.

Hunter’s ability to change how society saw journalism was his legacy, providing valuable insights and personal experiences when commenting on the world around him. For that, he is one of the most influential journalists ever.

Most famous work: Thompson is known for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his “gonzo” journalism, which challenged norms and provided unique perspectives. Check out Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on Amazon; click here.

6. Christiane Amanpour: Voice from the Frontlines

Christiane Amanpou
Christiane Amanpour CBE is a British-Iranian journalist 

Amanpour has provided excellent wartime insights while working as CNN’s Chief International Anchor. She has also worked in this area for ABC News. If you are looking for an example of fearless reporting, look no further than her work on the Bosnian war.

Her dedication is proof of journalists’ dedication to their craft and how they often risk their well-being to highlight important issues. Amanpour reported from Iraq and Afghanistan during the conflict in those countries and was praised for her insights into the situation and its impact on civilians.

Most famous work: She covered global conflicts and crises for CNN, offering insights from the frontlines of international events.

7. Ryszard Kapuściński: A Global Perspective

Ryszard Kapuściński
Ryszard Kapuściński was a Polish journalist, poet and author

Ryszard Kapuściński, born in 1932 in Poland, coverage of decolonization in Africa captured the continent’s struggles and transformations. His book The Emperor chronicled the fall of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and gave the outside world an insight into a country that had not entered many people’s thinking.

In his book Another Day of Life, he also discussed his experiences in China during Mao Zedong’s Chinese leadership.

Most famous work: Reported from various countries and conflict zones, offering insights into the human condition through works like The Emperor and Shah of Shahs. Check out  Shah of Shahs on Amazon; click here.

8. Ida B. Wells: A Crusader for Justice

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist and leader in the civil rights movement

Wells was born into slavery in 1862 and became a fierce advocate for African-American civil rights and one of his generation’s top investigative journalists, fearlessly confronting racial injustice.

Her exposés on lynching in the southern United States during the 1890s challenged societal norms and changed society at a time when systemic racism wasn’t being highlighted. Wells opened a path for future news reporters who wanted to challenge power.

Most famous work: A fantastic activist who is known in the world of journalism for her anti-lynching crusades and writings.

9. Nellie B. Bly: Breaking Boundaries

Nellie B. Bly
Nellie B. Bly is best known for her undercover exposé journalism

Born in 1864 as Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, Bly’s daring undercover assignment in a mental institution pushed the boundaries of investigative journalism. This helped to expose the dire conditions faced by mental health patients at the time. Her deep dives into complex subjects encourage a more informed public, sparking conversations never had before.

Most famous work: Bly is best known for exposing the mistreatment of patients in mental institutions through her undercover work and the exposé Ten Days in a Mad-House. Check out Ten Days in a Mad-House on Amazon; click here.

10. Marie Colvin: The Fearless Reporter

Marie Colvin
Marie Colvin was a famous foreign affairs correspondent for The Sunday Times

Colvin is a conflict reporter whose work brought the realities of war to the public. Her dedication to telling the stories of those affected by conflict underlines her bravery in reporting war-torn areas.

Colvin died covering the Syrian conflict, being hit by a rocket in a makeshift media center. The British-American Colvin was posthumously awarded an Emmy Award for courageous reporting from conflict zones.

Most known work: Colvin is notable for covering the Syrian Civil War and bringing the truth from other conflict zones back to the newsroom. She also contributed to PBS programs like Charlie Rose and Frontline.

Preserving the Legacy of Truth

The above names will live on forever. Their reporting proves that journalism is not merely a profession but a force that empowers us to build a better future. 

At its best, journalism allows us to hold the powerful accountable and bring essential truth to the masses. Going forward, it is hoped that ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ will become things of the past, while brave journalism done with integrity will once again become the norm.

FAQ’s About The Famous Journalists

Who is the most famous journalist of all time?

While there is no definitive answer on who is the most famous journalist of all time, many of the most iconic names associated with news are either anchors or co-anchors, such as Lester Holt and Anderson Cooper.

Who was the most trusted journalist of the 1960s?

Walter Cronkite is widely considered the most trusted journalist of the 1960s. He served as a news anchor for 44 years and, during that time, built up a rapport with the American public.