I do think our on-base percentage rose steadily through the years. I am proud of just about all of the Second Read features we have published in the back of the book, in which writers recall a book that helped shape them, or that should not be forgotten. I am particularly proud of “Into the Abyss,” our cover piece in November 2006, which presented the voices of the journalists covering Iraq at its worst, in oral-history fashion, and which would become Reporting Iraq; of Michael Shapiro’s portrait of The Philadelphia Inquirer in agony, in the March issue that year; and of Eric Umansky’s treatise on the coverage of torture, in the September issue. In 2008, I thought Lawrence Lanahan’s layering of The Wire against urban journalism in real-life Baltimore, from January 2008, was a revelation, and so was Bree Nordenson’s exploration of the ramifications of information overload, in November. In 2009, we looked at the future of journalism in three separate cover packages, from three perspectives, and won a lovely crystal media-criticism trophy from Penn State for our efforts, which is sparkling above my desk as I write.
That year also brought Dean Starkman’s May cover piece on the failure of the business press in the run-up to the financial meltdown, the kind of press criticism this magazine was born to produce. (It will be expanded into a CJR book, The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark, next year, with our new books partner, Columbia University Press.) Starkman had another winner in 2010, with his “Hamster Wheel” piece on the great newsroom speedup and its journalistic costs. Moe Tkacik’s “Look at Me!”, a barbed critique of journalism in the age of branding, was loved or hated by all who read it. I loved it. And I have loved most of our cover pieces this year, and much of the rest of what has been in between the covers. What can I tell you?
If this is starting to sound nostalgic, it is somewhat nostalgic. I am not going anywhere and, God willing, will continue as CJR’s executive editor for a good run. What is new is that thanks to a generous funder, CJR is in the process of hiring an editor in chief, to whom I will report, and with whom I hope to launch this place into the next half century. Among other things the editor in chief will be, I am told, is someone who enjoys giving speeches and being on panels about the future more than I do (which is not so much). That editor will find there is plenty of work to share.
As an orientation exercise, perhaps the new editor and I will listen together to my greatest-hits phone-message collection. I have saved one from the late David Halberstam, for example. Imagine a voice that sounds exactly like God, telling you emphatically he is not used to people messing with his copy. Another is from Richard Johnson, who once wrote an oily gossip column for the New York Post. The message begins: “I am doing a story about how the Columbia Journalism Review has embarrassed itself . . .” (Actually, we had done no such thing.) On the other side of the ledger is an e-mail from a political science major named Julian from Canada who said he had come across CJR in the bookstore where he works. What Julian wanted to know is this: “It seems you guys are not a huge magazine, and thus I’ve been buying every issue when I see it at work (as an employee I could just borrow it for free) in order to help support you guys. I was just wondering, would I be more helpful to your continued survival as a publication if I subscribed?” God bless you, Julian. If you need an internship, just call.