Reading a conference volume is usually as disappointing as watching a tie football game. Such volumes, reflecting their conferences, meander. Tantalizing notions raised by one participant are followed by not sequiturs on the mind of another. Skillful editing can certainly help, but more often cannot mask the intrinsic problems in the conferences themselves.

The Media and Business has many of these problems, but it is several cuts above the ordinary. Though frequently disjointed, it is also lively and provocative. The product of a 1977 Princeton symposium on the adversary relationship between the press and American business, The Media and Business succeeds through the quality of the participants (it skimmed the cream of both business and media communities, with a smattering of lawyers) and the structure of the sessions (three hypothetical cases, presented in the Socratic style by prominent law school professors). The cases are plausible and interesting -- a drug with unforeseen side effects, the secret dealings of an aircraft company, the complex relationships of a bank, a finance agency, and a manufacturing plant. Each raises all the right dilemmas, and brings the holders of opposing views face to face. The participants are quick, honest and often witty in their responses. The editors contribute an introduction that adequately focuses the important distinctions and perceptions of business and media people.

The book, however, is marred by the decision not to identify the participants -- they are referred to instead as "First Lawyer," "Third businessman," "Fifth Reporter," and so on -- which is confusing, especially by the time one gets to the "Ninth Businessman," in a long exchange. And there are occasions, usually during extended discussions by lawyers of legal intricacies, when an editor's ruthless pen would have been welcome to keep the arguments on course. But, all in all, this is a good and interesting book on an important problem. (Vintage, paperback, $4.95)