Conventional Wisdom
Garry Wills scrutinized television’s lens on the Democrats’ 1984 national convention in San Francisco for CJR’s September/October ’84 issue, and concluded that the event and its coverage, like the election itself, now constituted “more a festive rite than considered debate.” Even so, having found noteworthy if superficial dissent on the way to Mondale’s nomination, Wills rejoined journalists ready to abandon conventions: “It is quite true that the outcome of a modern national convention is predictable, and looks preordained. Still, the conclusion of sexual congress is also supposed to be fairly standard; but how you get there matters.”

• NBC broadcasts “The Faces of Death in Africa,” a report on Ethiopian famine.

• The National News Council, founded in 1973 as a private, blue-ribbon adjudicator of press complaints, folds.

1985

The format of the typical USA Today news story has changed so little since the paper’s 1982 debut that most of its editors and writers can recite it in their sleep: the short snappy “we” lead (as in “We spend much more than we save…,” “We eat our liver…”), a few paragraphs of elaboration and quotes, and, finally, what are known as “factoids”—the bulleted list of boiled down facts and statistics. At times, the paper’s highly
stylized formation has apparently had an effect even on people interviewed by USA Today: many of them have shown a suspicious willingness to talk in the first-person plural, and to refer to the United States consistently as “the USA.”
—from Tom McNichol and Margaret Carlson’s “Al Neuharth’s Technicolor Baby, Part II,”
May/June ’85

• J. Anthony Lukas publishes Common Ground, his chronicle of Boston’s busing battle.

• The AP’s chief Mideast correspondent, Terry Anderson, is kidnapped in Lebanon and held hostage until 1991.

1986

“I hope CJR isn’t going to call this journalism.”
—columnist Jack Germond, to a CJR reporter before an appearance on The McLaughlin Group,
May/June ’86

• Alex Jones dissects Louisville Courier-Journal owners’ decision to sell in “The Fall of the House of Bingham”.

• Bill Cox, managing editor of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, reveals he has AIDS.

1987

The Miami Herald cripples Gary Hart’s presidential campaign by reporting on his infidelities.

• The Federal Communications Commission repeals the Fairness Doctrine, saying it is unconstitutional and ineffective.

1988

Anger Management
Amid the chain consolidations of the eighties, Doug Underwood’s March/April ’88 CJR article, “When MBAs Rule the Newsroom,” captured an uneasy time. Editors “have begun to behave more and more like the managers of any other corporate entity,” focusing on marketing, readership surveys, budgeting, and management training. Underwood wrote that many reporters, used to employers that nurtured idiosyncrasies, independence, and irreverence, now felt unwelcome. Journalists complained that stories unappealing to target demographics were being given short shrift, and that personnel concerns were eating up midlevel editors’ time at the expense of copy. A seasoned Seattle Times reporter said he was denied a promotion after a company psychologist judged him a poor fit for the era, concluding he showed “little interest in paperwork or bureaucratic routine.”

• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution publishes “The Color of Money,” a series on redlining and a hallmark in datadriven reporting.

• Supreme Court’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision curtails student journalists’ free-speech rights.

1989

The New Yorker publishes Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer”.

• Time Inc. and Warner Communications merge, creating the world’s largest media company.

1990

Since Oliver North’s trial, I have talked to more than a dozen of the reporters who have methodically tried to connect the dots to fill in the Iran-contra picture. Their strongest complaints were reserved for their peers—those editors and colleagues who treated the subject of constitutional violations as academic or, worse, trivial, precisely because Congress had not responded with outrage. The press seemed to share, rather than challenge, Congress’s willingness to pass the buck.
—from Scott Armstrong’s “Iran-Contra: Was the press any match for all the president’s men?”
May/June ’90

• PBS airs “Inside Gorbachev’s USSR,” a series by Hedrick Smith and Martin Smith detailing perestroika.

• Bloomberg expands its information services to include Bloomberg News, a financial wire service

1991

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.