Where is the right place to cover a war? After the Gulf War had ended, CJR’s May/June ’91 issue presented at least four perspectives. Christopher Hanson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer joined a Pentagon-controlled (and censored) press pool usually far removed from the battle, sarcastically noting that “at least we got to be part of the big adventure.” New York Times reporter Chris Hedges described quitting the pool system to become a “unilateral,” and donning a uniform and a military haircut to blend in among soldiers “who violated orders to allow us to do our job.” Another article judged CNN correspondent Peter Arnett’s decision to report from Baghdad under the thumb of Saddam Hussein’s press minders as a “close call.” And Michael Massing argued that the press’s front line ought to have been in Washington, where there was digging to be done: “This war needed fewer David Halberstams and more I. F. Stones.”
• There Are No Children Here, Alex Kotlowitz’s book about a family in a Chicago housing project, is published.
• In Masson v. New Yorker, the Supreme Court finds that quotations that distort the speaker’s meaning can be defamatory.
• Philadelphia Inquirer investigative team Don Barlett and Jim Steele publish “What Went Wrong,” their look at America’s weakening middle class.
• Arthur Sulzberger Sr. appoints Arthur Sulzberger Jr. publisher of The New York Times.
• Kevin Carter photographs a vulture stalking an emaciated Sudanese girl.
• Riding the Silicon Valley wave, Wired launches and breaks even in its first year.
After coming under fire for darkening O. J. Simpson’s mugshot for its cover Time’s managing editor took to an AOL chatroom to explain. Writing in CJR’s November/December ’94 issue, Jennifer Wolff reported that it was the first time a journalist of such stature had gone online to make “himself accountable.” So it was in journalism’s early Internet days: “Readers have unprecedented access to reporters and editors, and journalists enjoy the rare opportunity to learn with lightning speed what their audience is thinking.” Not all were so eager to embrace the scrum. Asked if his writers would entertain questions or opinions from online readers, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter demurred: “That’s what cocktail parties are for.”
• The New Republic publishes “No Exit,” Betsy McCaughey’s attack on the Clinton health-care bill.
• Hispanic, black, Asian, and Native American journalist groups host inaugural Unity Conference.
Citizen Journalism 1.0
In the nineties, a movement—known as “public” or “civic” journalism—held that the news industry could no longer, as Mike Hoyt described it in the September/October ’95 issue of CJR, “act merely as a mirror of events.” The call went out to provide forums for citizens and journalists to cooperate to help shape news agendas and forge consensus on important issues. Doubters worried about relinquishing authority and stepping away from traditions of objectivity, and derided the experiments (according to one 1994 tally, attempted in over 170 newsrooms) as little more than egotistical self-promotion. Enthusiasm and foundation support for public journalism waned by decade’s end, just as the Internet exploded the possibilities for citizens to craft their own information and civic landscapes.
For twenty-four days I tracked Tonya Harding for The Boston Globe as she moved from an obscure figure skater to a criminal defendant. No piece of information was too trivial. No effort too ridiculous. I endured the embarrassing experience of slipping in alongside a crowd of ten-year-olds at Harding’s rink, in the hopes that Harding’s coach could speak to me (she wouldn’t). I spent one chilly evening sitting in a rented car while a colleague looked in the windows of the cheaply built A-frame where Harding lived (trespassing by anyone’s definition). “I see some skates,” she said, nose at the glass. When she lifted up the lid on the garbage can, I said, ”Will you get in this car!” and reluctantly she did.
—from Jane Meredith Adams’s “My Twenty-Four Days on the Slippery Slope,”
• Alix Freedman of The Wall Street Journal exposes internal tobacco industry memos.
• This American Life, rejected by National Public Radio, goes on air at Chicago’s WBEZ as Your Radio Playhouse.