Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our March/April issue

Editor in chief’s note

‘The journalism community deserves diversity, but why aren’t we getting it?” asked Farai Chideya, moderator of CJR’s April 3 panel about race, class, and social mobility at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Many thanks to the ACLU for supporting the event, and to Farai and her fellow panelists Raquel Cepeda, Gene Policinski, Richard Prince, and Jeff Yang for their insights and good humor. As Yang joked mordantly, “Journalism-Americans are soon far more likely to be extinct than any of the other minorities we’ve talked about.” If you missed the livestream, you can still catch the conversation, thanks to C-SPAN.

The next item of gratitude is bittersweet: CJR’s vice chairman, Peter Osnos, has announced that he’s stepping down, having helped us recruit his successor, David Kellogg. Peter has been a staunch champion of CJR, eager to brainstorm any problem, ever willing to make introductions, and always first with congratulations on any minor victory. We so appreciate your support, Peter!

—Cyndi Stivers

Common ground

Can’t say enough good things about your intelligent, insightful roundtable discussion on race and class (“Fair Share,” a conversation hosted by Farai Chideya, CJR, March/April). I hope it will spark many more discussions in newsrooms (and exec suites) across the country. Kudos to CJR for making it the cover story and then giving it so much room to roam.

Byron Reimus
Yardley, PA


In our March/April cover story “Fair share,” we quoted the Lexington Herald-Leader: “It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.” While we took the comment at face value, the editor in question, John Carroll, actually intended it as a rueful preface to a serious examination of his paper’s lapses in civil rights coverage. We apologize for the missing context.

Fan friction

Re: “Aspiring Line” by Eric Alterman (CJR, March/April). William F. Buckley always seemed creepy to me. . . . But then I’m one of those lefty liberals, so what do I know? Seriously, this was fun—an honest recollection, so well written, and I could understand every word. (Can’t say the same about Buckley, which, I suspect, is how he liked it.)

Ramona Grigg
Drummond Island, MI

Very revealing. I always knew I was doing the wrong things to get into that “personal and professional ecosystem,” but never have I seen, spelled out so explicitly, exactly what the right things were. Thanks for making me feel much better about my scant interactions with Hitch and total absence at Tina Brown’s parties.

Edward Ericson Jr.
Joppa, MD

How many times will Eric Alterman stick his face into the same fan? Now we know!

Mike Gebert
Chicago, IL

Safe at home?

Thanks, Clay Shirky, for your article (“Dark Shadows,” CJR, March/April). Homicide Watch could provide further service to the community by integrating a public-health approach to the data, and dividing it into different types of violence: child, youth, family, stranger, police . . . In most communities, the No. 1 type of assault is domestic violence, which requires a different approach to reducing the incidence and helping the victims than, say, gang violence. Identifying the weapon can be useful, too. Highlighting organizations and people in the community who are working to reduce and prevent violence would also help . . . instead of living with the idea that there’s nothing to be done about it, or that it’s only a police and criminal-justice problem.

Jane Ellen Stevens
Founder/editor, ACEsTooHigh.com
Winters, CA

No holds barred

James Ridgeway’s “Fortresses of Solitude” (CJR, March/April) is a fantastic and necessary piece of journalism—and a call to action, though that’s language that will make a lot of journalists uncomfortable. I also read a great post at Solitary Watch summarizing the specific media-access regulations at various prisons, and there’s inconsistency across the country—which puts reporters at a disadvantage. It’s clear that some mass action is needed to push a large-scale precedent on this issue, like the ACLU’s mass FOIA campaign that made public thousands and thousands of pages about American torture abroad.

Jina Moore (CJR contributor)
Comment posted on CJR.org.

Tight focus

Carl Corey’s documentary images of America (featured in “On the Job” in the March/April CJR) are worthy of the John Chancellor Journalism award. Each series is a complete visual essay, a perfect example of masterful journalism.

Vincent Virga
Washington, DC

Good to NOLA?

I am so pleased to have read Ryan Chittum’s article (“The battle of New Orleans,” CJR, March/April). The City of New Orleans has been missing the in-depth journalism that was the hallmark of the former Times-Picayune. We currently have an issue with city infrastructure and the revising of the Sewerage and Water Board. It would have been on the front page of the old T-P. Instead, the citizens of New Orleans get treated like we have no brains and only want to read about sports and entertainment.
I found it interesting that Advance produced a print edition of the Times-Picayune on Thanksgiving Thursday as a platform for the Black Friday sales ads.
It’s as if New Orleans has returned to the months just after Katrina: receiving our news inconsistently or on an ad-hoc basis.
I subscribe to the T-P, the Advocate, The New York Times (all in print), and the Wall Street Journal (digital) as well as New Orleans City Business. And if I feel left out of the news cycle, imagine how someone who does not have Internet access feels.

Ann de Montluzin Farmer
New Orleans, LA

It’s a shame that Ryan Chittum refused our invitation earlier this year to visit our newsroom before writing a piece filled with bad assumptions, inaccuracies, and preconceived notions. If he had, he would have seen firsthand an extraordinarily talented team of journalists working to produce an excellent newspaper and digital report. He would have heard the unmistakable hum of a news operation in top form—reporting, editing, collaborating on a range of work, from brief dispatches to ambitious enterprise pieces. He might have caught the excitement that comes from engaging with your readers and allowing your work to be shaped by their reactions and suggestions. He would have been hard-pressed to ignore the storytelling energy in the room and our use of the many tools to express it.

As reporters, we choose our subjects, our quotations, the lenses to frame our work. The best put aside conventional wisdoms and derivative points of view. They allow their writing to be shaped by deep reporting and their own fresh responses to what they find. Chittum’s backward-looking and narrow take falls short of doing that. American newspaper journalism has been beset by bloodletting and decline for a decade. Those who find a path forward will do so by being innovative and entrepreneurial. . . . We don’t claim to have all the answers . . . but we believe that we’re advancing the essential conversation about what kinds of bold changes will save us. We invite others interested in the fate of our business to come and see us in New Orleans and to explore but one of many possible futures for viable, vigorous journalism in the digital age.

Jim Amoss
New Orleans, LA
Comment posted on cjr.org

Ryan Chittum responds: As Jim Amoss well knows, I was in New Orleans in early December and asked for interviews then and in the weeks afterward. I didn’t hear back from anyone for about seven weeks, at which point my deadline was nigh. My editors declined to fly me down to New Orleans again just to see the new newsroom.

Notes from our online readers

In late March, CJR science writer Curtis Brainard wrote a piece about the Finkbeiner Test, a checklist of topics that those writing about female scientists should avoid to keep the focus on professional achievements, not gender. The test was named after science writer Ann Finkbeiner, who chose to ignore the issue of gender in a recent profile of a female astronomer.

Brainard wrote: “Finkbeiner’s profile of UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez [is] a beautifully written piece about Ghez’s fascination with telescopes and her pioneering work with speckle imaging, which led to proof that a supermassive black hole lies at the center of the Milky Way—and it has nothing to do with her gender.” And commenters responded:

While the “no firsts” rule is very appropriate, what I really want to see more of is “seconds.” “She’s the second woman to win” tells me that the award committee isn’t just looking to check off the “female recipient” box. —Joe Noakes
The rule of “no firsts” is a difficult one for me. I think it can be quite valuable to recognize the significance of a first when it demonstrates how much harder a victory it may have been to achieve. Everyone that follows in those footsteps has it a little easier by virtue of the fact that the barrier was previously broken by that pioneer.” —Marykate Clark
It’s fine to say that science articles should focus on science, but I really take issue with how dismissive Finkbeiner is about women scientists’ comments on gender discrimination and imbalance in their fields. . . . Dealing with gendered assumptions about my competence and career is a fundamental part of my experience; if women scientists go out of their way to tell you that this an important issue to them, maybe you should respect what they are trying to communicate instead of believing that the problems we deal with will disappear if ignored. —Gwen Spencer

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.