Looking at the history of American journalism may be the best way to look forward, writes former Time magazine and Village Voice columnist Jonathan Larsen in the November/December 2001 issue of Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), which sets out to do just that. This special anniversary issue features a 40-year retrospective of American journalism.
Following the attacks of September 11, CJR staff were already well into production of the planned 40-year retrospective. Soon after, Publisher David Laventhol decided to add a 30-page analysis of September 11 coverage in "somber black and white."
"We had intended for this to be an issue to keep, as a record of change in the history of journalism and the world it covers. Now that is even more the case," says Laventhol.
Jonathan Larsen's "long look back" begins with a decade-by-decade reflection, from the 1960s to the new millennium. Larsen describes the media's rise and fall as "a long roller coaster ride, at least in terms of quality and content—a fairly quick ascent in the '60s, and '70s, a plateau in the '80s, and then a slow slide during the '90s into the present."
Following Larsen's article in this anniversary issue is a year-by-year showcase of some of the biggest news stories since 1961, excerpts from past CJR articles throughout its 40 years, and profiles of many of the journalists and media professionals who have made significant contributions to the profession including Charlayne Hunter, David Halberstam, Ben Bradlee, Walter Cronkite, Clay Felker, Lou Boccardi, Bill Moyers, Barbara Walters, Ted Turner, Art Buchwald, Terry Anderson, Katie Couric, David Gergen, Carol Loomis and Jim Lehrer among many others.
In addition, the issue features a historical look at the magazine itself with two articles by Tom Goldstein, dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Also, James Boylan, the founding editor of CJR, talks about the origins of the publication and how it has changed throughout the years.
In its package of stories on the September 11 attacks and their aftermath, CJR commends the news media's overall coverage. In a laurel to "America's Fourth Estate," CJR praises broadcast and cable networks for raising "the public interest above monetary concerns, delivering continuous, commercial-free coverage to a stricken world desperate for news…"
Included in the package of stories are an eyewitness account of the World Trade Center attack by student journalist Nick Spangler; a report by contributing editor Russ Baker, on how the Wall Street Journal produced its September 12 issue despite being evacuated from its offices across the street from the World Trade Center; and, Robert Windrem, a senior investigative producer at NBC Nightly News, gives an insider's account of the story of anthrax in the NBC newsroom. Further reports, critiques and commentary are offered by Michael Hoyt, CJR's executive editor; Richard C. Wald, a former president of NBC News and former vice-president of ABC News; CJR contributing editors Michael Massing, Russ Baker and Christopher Hanson; journalist and author Harold Evans; Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the "Far Eastern Economic Review" who has covered Afghanistan for the past 20 years; ombudsman for the "Washington Post" and former editor of the "International Herald Tribune" Michael Getler; and noted first amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.
In addition, for four years in a row, the Project for Excellence in Journalism has assessed the quality of local television. This year's findings, "Gambling with the Future," examine the most dangerous threats to editorial quality and are a supplement to the CJR issue.
The Columbia Journalism Review, a national magazine for professional journalists, has been published bimonthly by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism since 1961.