Your list of “40 women who changed the media business in the past 40 years” (CJR, July/August) is impressive enough, so far as it goes. But without Marlene Sanders, your list, or any such list, is incomplete. Sanders’s lonely female anchor outpost for ABC-TV News in the late ’60s, and her later documentary duty for CBS-TV News insures her standing among “The Divine Sisterhood.”
The editors respond: This list, like all such efforts, was necessarily subjective and certainly not complete; we were not claiming that these women were the only 40 who mattered. We hoped to invite discussion, and we got some!
Thanks to the readers who joined the party, proposing the following additions to the list: Cissy Baker, Cathleen Black, Beverly Broadman, Joan Didion, Susan Faludi, Nikki Finke, Pauline Frederick, Amy Goodman, Katharine Graham, Meg Greenfield, Helen Hottenstein, Nancy Hicks Maynard, Cathy Lasiewicz, Jane Mayer, Sylvia Porter, Carole Simpson, Peggy Simpson, Elizabeth Sullivan, Helen Thomas, Kate Webb, and Nancy Woodhull.
We also made the tough decision not to single out role models in our own J-School family: Joan Konner (award-winning TV producer, dean emerita of the J-School, and former publisher of CJR); Suzanne Braun Levine (a founding Ms. editor, author, and first female editor of CJR); and the redoubtable Helen Gurley Brown (the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan, who not long before her death in August gave $18 million to the J-School to establish the Brown Institute for Media Innovation)-—among many others! Rest in peace, Mrs. Brown.
Solomon the wise?
The July 5 Columbia Journalism Review article by Mariah Blake (“Something fishy?” CJR, July/August) contains numerous factual errors that are detrimental to the reputation of The Washington Times, its former editor John Solomon, and its outside Web designer Roger Black. Although the primary thrust of the article relates to the Center for Public Integrity, the lead section is focused on Solomon’s tenure at The Washington Times. Blake’s biased and derogatory descriptions of the Times are unfortunate, but not the subject of this letter. We request that CJR retract and correct the five following errors:
- 1. Blake inaccurately reported that Web traffic dropped after Solomon took over as editor in January. In fact, the newspaper’s official measurements from Omniture show that Web pageviews and unique visitors steadily rose, with pageviews more than tripling between January 2008 and November 2009. The story also quoted four current and former Times officials saying “the paper’s aging readership found the site trying to navigate, and traffic plunged.” This information is not supported in fact. During 2009, washingtontimes.com was consistently in the top 25 US newspaper websites in pageviews. Of significant importance, the company’s washingtontimes.com website redesigned by Roger Black was awarded a Webby as one of the top five news websites in 2009.
- 2. Blake erroneously alleges that Solomon’s stewardship of the newsroom created financial hardship for the newspaper and led to its financial problems. In fact, the newspaper’s financial condition improved during his tenure as a result of numerous successes Solomon and others initiated throughout the company. These were in large part a result of a strategic transition that began in spring 2007 to move The Washington Times from a Washington-based newspaper company serving the nation’s capital to a national multimedia company serving much wider audiences. Specifically, newsroom costs shrunk about 10 percent during Solomon’s tenure, due to numerous efficiencies, and were consistently held below the management-approved budget. Digital revenues more than doubled in 2009 after Solomon took responsibility for this area. Several new channels for revenue generation along with cost improvements were achieved through companywide efforts that improved the long-term outlook for The Washington Times. Solomon contributed a unique, productive, and positive role as a member of our leadership team in executing these change initiatives both in the newsroom and throughout the company.
- 3. Blake’s story fundamentally distorts the nature of several entrepreneurial efforts initiated at The Washington Times. As CJR surely understands, it is imperative for media companies to experiment with new ways of serving audiences and generating value. Some of the company’s initiatives, which started during Solomon’s tenure, reached break-even status in their first year, and other long-term projects—like the radio show America’s Morning News—were investment strategies that were expected to break even and become profitable over an extended period of time. This is a normal business process, and it is wrong to suggest that these initiatives were failures. In fact, the new radio show had grown to more than 50 markets in its first six months of existence in 2009, exceeding our expectations. We refer you to the summer 2009 cover story of Talkers Magazine as evidence.
- 4. Blake’s story inaccurately claims that Solomon installed a TV studio inside the newsroom. In fact, the decision to create the studio and the contract for equipment were set in motion by the Times’s marketing department well before Solomon accepted the job as editor. Solomon was directly involved with the team that created a new radio studio from which America’s Morning News was broadcast.
- 5. Blake’s story inaccurately reports that Solomon proposed an initiative to start a “Central Asia Wire.” In fact, this idea was brought to the Times from an outside contractor through our international sales division. At the time of Solomon’s departure, the company was still evaluating the concept, and neither he nor senior management had approved the idea. The deal wasn’t approved until more than a month after Solomon’s departure, when new managers were running the company.
Mariah Blake (or any other CJR reporter) did not contact the president and/or the CFO to verify if her claims in the article were accurate, which is basic due diligence. Instead, the writer used comments from an unauthorized Times person with no firsthand knowledge of the company’s financial situation. Because Blake’s journalistic errors are damaging to the reputation of The Washington Times and its current and past employees, and because your publication’s mission is to encourage excellence in journalism, we respectfully request that the Columbia Journalism Review correct the record.
Thomas P. McDevitt
The Washington Times
The editors respond: Most of the facts that Thomas McDevitt has called into question are drawn from interviews with high-level Washington Times sources. Those sources are known to CJR, and they had full access to corporate information. In one circumstance, our writer misinterpreted what the sources said. Contrary to McDevitt’s assertions, meanwhile, Mariah Blake attempted to give the paper the opportunity to weigh in prior to publication. In particular, she requested an interview with CFO Keith Cooperrider. He did not respond. Concerning the five points McDevitt raises:
- 1. Our reporter misinterpreted the statements of sources who told her that the new site was highly unpopular among The Washington Times’s aging readership. While this was, in fact, the case, traffic did not fall when the site was introduced. On the contrary, it rose. The website that the paper had in place before Solomon’s arrival was rarely updated, whereas the new site posted stories regularly and was ambitiously marketed. It is worth noting that the site was redesigned again in 2010. Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, washingtontimes.com was not “awarded a Webby as one of the five top news sites in 2009.” The site was neither a winner nor one of the five nominees (finalists), in either the news or the newspaper category. It was one of seven “honorees,” equivalent to an honorable mention, in the newspaper category. (The BBC won in the news category and The Guardian took the newspaper website category that year.)
- 2. McDevitt’s assertion that Solomon’s tenure was marked by “numerous successes” is directly contradicted by multiple high-level sources with knowledge of the paper’s finances. Most of the other criticisms raised under this point do not deal directly with the facts in the story. For instance, nowhere in the piece is it alleged that Solomon’s stewardship of the newsroom caused the Times’s financial problems. (On the contrary, the story states that the crisis was triggered by the Moon family feud, and the subsequent clampdown on subsidies.) The story says only that, according to current and former Times officials, money-losing projects launched during Solomon’s tenure “contributed” to the paper’s decline after subsidies were cut in 2009.
- 3. We appreciate the importance of news organization being entrepreneurial and understand that launching new ventures is inherently risky. But according to our sources, not all of the problems these projects ran into were the result of ordinary startup challenges. In the case of America’s Morning News, the paper signed a contract committing it to paying an outside syndicator $1.2 million a year, for three years. Despite reaching dozens of markets, the show didn’t deliver anywhere near that sum in ad revenue for the paper (a fact that has also been reported by The Washington Post). The agreement, which multiple high-level sources called “disastrous” for the Times, appears to have been part of a pattern of basing decisions on overly ambitious financial targets.
- 4. Washington Times officials told our reporter that it was Solomon who championed the television studio, and Solomon took at least partial credit for the project in interviews. For example: When Blake asked him to list the initiatives he launched at the paper, he said, “We created a TV studio after I got there.” But Solomon did note later in the conversation that the idea had been discussed before his arrival. On reflection, the author should have made it clear that the initiative was not Solomon’s alone.
- 5. This point does not accurately characterize the facts of the story. Nowhere in the piece is it alleged that Solomon proposed launching the Central Asia Newswire. The story says only that the project was among those “Solomon and the business staff” were planning before the 2009 shakeup. CJR has reported previously on Solomon’s role in laying groundwork for this venture—among other things, he was apparently responsible for assigning the newswire’s lone reporter to his post. Please see “News for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
In the July/August issue, Darts & Laurels incorrectly implied that Winston-Salem Journal reporter John Railey broke the story of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program by himself. He was part of a team of reporters that produced the 2002 series, “Against Their Will.”