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