• The Robert MacNeil Report, forerunner of the PBS NewsHour, debuts.
• Reporting from the 33,000-circulation Niagara Gazette boosts early investigations of toxic Love Canal site.
• Church Committee on Intelligence Activities claims 50 journalists on CIA payroll—subsequent reporting suggests number as high as 400.
On June 2, 1976, Don Bolles was mortally wounded in a Phoenix hotel parking lot when six sticks of dynamite exploded under his Datsun. In response, the Investigative Reporters and Editors professional organization, which Bolles had helped found a year before, sponsored The Arizona Project, a five-month collaborative effort to investigate the murder and organized crime in the state. Executives at the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times said they didn’t believe in group journalism, and declined to detail reporters.They, along with Bolles’s paper, The Arizona Republic, also declined to publish the resulting 80,000-word investigation. Melvin Mencher dissented in CJR’s November/December ’77 issue, claiming the team had exposed a corrupt “way of life long gone in most of the country,” and thereby “demonstrated the practicality of the team method,” setting the stage for today’s blossoming of collaborative reporting.
• Mother Jones reveals that tens of thousands of fire-prone Ford Pintos were knowingly sold.
• Washington Journalism Review, later renamed American Journalism Review, launches.
• The Chicago Sun-Times publishes investigation of payola and bribery at the Mirage, a decoy tavern set up by the paper.
• The New York Times starts a stand-alone business section.
In CJR’s March/April ’79 issue, Pulitzer winner Nick Kotz investigated the “shockingly slow and unacceptably limited” progress in integrating American newsrooms. Two-thirds of the nation’s 1,762 dailies still had not hired one non-white journalist; of the paltry 1,700 minority journalists, only 59 held positions of assistant city editor or higher. Kotz suggested that hiring editors wanted recruits with experience on smaller papers, but failed to recognize that such papers might be the most resistant to hiring minorities. The most diverse newspapers owed their success to internal advocacy by minority journalists, who pushed affirmative efforts “to seek out—and when necessary—train promising candidates.”
• The Progressive prints “The H-Bomb Secret” after a six-month court delay on the grounds the article would reveal classified information.
• Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network is founded.
• “Jimmy’s World,” Janet Cooke’s Pulitzerwinning profile of a heroin-addicted African-American child, later revealed as a fabrication, is published in The
• The Privacy Protection Act prohibits searches of newsrooms or reporters.
The Cable Box
In 1980, when CNN debuted, it launched “in a domain with no existing ground rules,” noted James Traub in CJR’s July/August ’81 issue. “The essence of CNN news, however, remains the two-minute morsel as brief as the typical network segment—and hence, inevitably as superficial.” Traub concluded that “Ted Turner and his boys” had demonstrated their professionalism and dented the networks’ dominance, but because they had failed to bring greater innovations “are not yet heroes—only pros.”
• The Atlantic publishes “The Education of David Stockman,” by William Greider, revealing Reagan’s budget director’s disenchantment with administration policy.
• The Washington Star ceases publication.
On November 20, 1980, the day after a homophobic shooting spree, New York Post reporter Joe Nicholson approached an editor and volunteered to write his “reaction as a gay person.” It was a pioneering move. Reflecting in the March/April ’82 CJR, Nicholson reported that the offer to write that never-published piece had made him the first and still only openly gay daily newspaper reporter in the city. “The Times will not print the word gay,” Nicholson wrote, and “neither the Post”—whose coverage he described as “frequently derogatory”—“nor the Daily News can be said to be eager to cover gay news.” His solution: “I don’t think gay news coverage will improve greatly until others come out.”
A New Kind of File
In CJR’s November/December ’82 issue, Steve Weinberg hailed “a decade of newsroom use” of computer-assisted reporting. One recent example: The Miami Herald, The St. Petersburg Times, and the Orlando Sentinel pooled $75,000 to rent time on a university computer, keying in their own database of campaign-finance reports. The project led to unprecedented stories on influence seekers and the state’s politicians—and allowed one Herald reporter to finally stop relying on a wall of sixty card-catalog boxes.
• Phillip Zweig’s articles in The American Banker predict the collapse of Penn Square Bank.
• CNN’s Crossfire debuts, bringing high-volume political debate programs to cable.
• After press restrictions have been lifted, The New York Times’s Stuart Taylor details “official misinformation” surrounding the invasion of Grenada.
• Anchorwoman Christine Craft goes to court claiming she was demoted because of her age and appearance.