Many of the dozens, perhaps even the few hundreds, of people who have been associated with the Review can confirm that the Review’s relations with its parent institution have not always been smooth. The seven deans who have served in the life of the Review have had to be conscious of the substantial resources that must go into sustaining even a small magazine, as the Review has been and remains. At least one dean feared that stories in the Review were reducing financial support for the school; another dropped hints that the ax was at hand. And it is hard not to believe that any dean did not think, at least momentarily, how much simpler life might be without CJR.
Still, over five decades the institution’s support for the Review has been strong. The first year or two would have been impossible without a line of credit extended to the Review by Columbia’s president, Grayson Kirk, before his time of troubles. Deans labored to keep a flow of financial support coming to the magazine, which was destined rarely, until recent years, to break even. Ed Barrett in particular continued to seek backing for the Review even after he stepped down from the deanship, while he served a decade as publisher. But many others have scrambled to gain for the magazine the support it now receives, advertising and circulation revenue having fallen well short of sufficiency.
By my count, the Review has had ten editors (counting my own two terms as two people), an average tenure of five years. The incumbent, Mike Hoyt, has outlasted us all. The round figure fails to suggest the turbulence that has frequently enveloped the position. My successor, Al Balk, found the school and its faculty so little to his liking that he proposed severing the magazine’s ties with Columbia. His successor, Ken Pierce—encouraged by Fred Friendly’s suggestion that CJR could be the Atlantic Monthly of journalism magazines—had a vision of a bigger, more ambitious CJR, broader in scope and influence. There were multiple redesigns and fresh starts, each costly. Editors fought with deans (I did) and deans by and large won. One editor even obtained a treaty of non-interference before he took the job.
From the beginning, the underlying strength of the Review was the community that gathered around it. In the early years, we were bolstered by a cluster of faithful stringers scattered across the country. Members of the faculty pitched in—Louis M. Starr as books editor, Larry Pinkham and Penn Kimball as writers and manuscript readers, and others as well. A stream of support came from faculty at other journalism schools. Professionals seemed to come out of nowhere, attracted by the opportunity to speak out. We were especially lucky in Washington, recruiting Ben Bagdikian to do a “letter” in each issue, a task later ably taken up by Jules Witcover.
Most of all, we benefited from the urgency of the issues of those decades; topics for stories fell into our laps—the Kennedy administration and its abrupt end, Vietnam, newspaper strikes, the civil rights movement, antiwar upheavals. Journalism’s involvement in each of these issues demanded unblinking evaluation, and by and large we found writers who could do the job.
There was static. When we made errors—and there were more than I like to remember—we were treated with deep scorn. More often, adverse reactions came from those who simply didn’t like what CJR had printed. We published letters to the editor, of course, but a standard tactic was for the offendee to go over our heads to the president. The university’s support, at least in that era, was unwavering. We got sometimes grudging acknowledgment from the various professional associations and a very cold shoulder from the American Press Institute, which in those days had its headquarters a few floors below us. Wes Gallagher, who had just become general manager of The Associated Press, raised the most serious challenge—a contention that a journalism school had no business criticizing the press, and he and the dean carried on a lively debate. Neither convinced the other.