Out of the park
Congratulations on a truly outstanding January/February issue. Magazines I read—like The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books—hit the walkoff homer often, and now the Columbia Journalism Review is in the lineup with them.
Robert F. Bomboy
Kilgore was here
Dean Starkman’s CJR cover story (“A Narrowed Gaze,” January/February) attempts to resolve the complex problems of business journalism by indulging in nostalgia for a golden age at Barney Kilgore’s 1950s Wall Street Journal, when the paper, in his view, “transcended” its “insider” mission to serve investors and become a “watchdog” and tribune of public welfare. As good as Kilgore’s paper was, this is fantasy. Not only did the paper continue to serve investors—Kilgore redefined their needs in a world growing more complex—but Starkman writes as if the WSJ was the only business publication that ever mattered.
To make matters worse, his theory of how business journalism surrendered its higher calling bizarrely blames two individuals: Steve Lipin, the WSJ ’s excellent M&A reporter in the late 1990s and CNBC’s Maria Bartiroma, who became a star while reporting from the New York Stock Exchange floor. Starkman wildly exaggerates their importance. Investor interests have long predominated in business journalism because they pay the bills.
In his race to spin a morality tale, Starkman overlooks developments that did reshape the business: first, the rush to celebrate technology in the 1990s; second, and more importantly, the Schumpeterian changes wrought by the Internet. For those of us struggling to cope with change, make a profit, and do good work, Starkman’s critique is at best superficial, at worst, wrong.
Editor in chief, The Deal LLC
New York, NY
Dean Starkman responds: Robert Teitleman defends two journalists who are not under attack and says that “Schumpeterian changes” drove the financial journalism we saw prior to the crash, as though no other journalism was possible. I doubt this view will do much to close the yawning perception gap between business-news leaders and members of the broader public who feel there was something missing in business journalism prior to the crackup.
The trouble is, Bernard Kilgore really was a central figure in 20th century American journalism, and not just business journalism. His experiment in literate, long-form, in-depth journalism—every day, twice a day, five days a week—obviously didn’t abandon investors for the broader interest. He merely showed it was possible to do both. Kilgore should represent a standard for business journalism, though some may find that bar too high. And don’t let anyone tell you the Journal didn’t face “Schumpeterian changes” when he launched his revolution.
Teitelman and I can agree, at least, that the “rush to celebrate technology” helped to reshape the news as the mortgage era dawned. That may be a starting point for a discussion about editorial decisions made in the past and what changes in approach might be needed for the future.
Jews and the Times
Neil Lewis’s thorough and fair effort on “The Times and the Jews” (CJR, January/February)—one that should put this issue to rest for all but a handful of extremists—was virtually undone by your unthinkably tasteless illustration. Does CJR perceive that a snarling caricature of a side-curled, bearded, and costumed member of one of Judaism’s cultish sects is what American Jewry is about? Sadly, that image could comfortably have appeared in Der Stuermer.