AJR’s Troubles

And what CJR really thinks about them

The news that our colleague and competitor, the American Journalism Review, is on thin financial ice this year is bad news, and smart journalists everywhere are wishing the magazine a quick and enduring recovery.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reports that AJR “could face a shutdown” by year’s end, although Tom Kunkel, its president, made clear that the magazine is working hard to pull through, and told Kurtz that there is no “drop-dead date.” AJR is $200,000 in the red, according to the Post.

The magazine’s situation has been aggravated by a lawsuit filed by Wendy McCaw, the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, over a December AJR piece about turmoil at that paper under her tenure. AJR has picked up the cost of defending its writer, Susan Paterno.

McCaw called the piece a “biased, false and misleading diatribe.” That’s odd, because it read to us as an example of the kind of solid journalism criticism that the American Journalism Review is known for at its best, the kind of analysis and reporting that would be sorely missed if the magazine disappeared.

Some readers might expect that Columbia Journalism Review might be privately glad to see a rival in tough straits. The opposite is true. The two magazines’ differing personalities have nearly always negated editorial overlap, and there is certainly more than enough work for everyone.

In fact, we can’t think of a time when the mission of the journalism review was more significant. Once upon a time magazines like theirs and ours were largely cops on the beat, blowing our whistle at ethical transgressions and swinging the occasional baton at lazy or unfair coverage. The job has grown, and perhaps the greatest part of it is this: we’re here to help journalism and those who care about it think through a confluence of social, political, technical, and financial challenges that threaten the very existence of the kind of reporting and analysis that a working democracy needs in order to stay healthy.

We consider AJR a partner in that mission, and hope to be raising a glass to them in a few months, when they pull past this rough spot in the road.

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing.