Boston Phoenix media critic Mark Jurkowitz announced this week that he will be leaving the paper in July to become the associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, headquartered in Washington, DC. Before returning to the Phoenix, and his old column, in 2005, Jurkowitz spent 10 years at the Boston Globe, as ombudsmen and media writer.
Paul McLeary: How did this new job at the Project for Excellence in Journalism come about — did they approach you initally?
Mark Jurkowitz: Yeah, they did. I had come back to the Phoenix about a year ago, after 10 years at the Globe, and was very happy here. But I’ve known Tom [Tom Rosenstiel, director of the PEJ], for a long time—obviously when you’re in my line of work, the Project is an invaluable source, and they actually approached me.
PM: What kind of projects will you be working on there?
MJ: Primarily they’re known for two things: One is their ability to do empirically solid content analysis and two, their ability to be able to analyze it in neutral, non-ideological ways. So, I’m going to be involved in all of their research projects and working closely with Tom at this point.
PM: Are you still going to keep writing while you’re there?
MJ: Well, there’s writing involved in the job, but I won’t be writing regularly for media outlets. That isn’t to say that at some point you won’t see my byline, but this will take all of my energy, so I won’t continue to write a media column anywhere or anything like that.
PM: Was it a hard decision to make, giving up the writing aspect of your job?
MJ: I’ve been a reporter for 25 years, and I could see myself being a reporter for a little longer. But when you’re in my line of work, you really start to think about where you can ultimately go, and what’s the next logical step. There are a handful of places in this country that take seriously the analysis of how the media is doing, and what it is doing, and I’d always thought to myself, “Boy, I’d like to end up at one of those places.” So when a job like this opens up at a point in my career—I’m a middle aged journalist—it just seemed to me to be the next logical step to take after what I’ve done all these years.
PM: Are there any subjects in particular you want to work on once you get to the PEJ?
MJ: I haven’t come with any specific projects in mind, but I’m very familiar with their work, and what they do, [much] of which even as a media critic, you can’t do. When they do these projects they really get a hard look at what’s actually being produced, what is the actual media product, and what it looks like. And, you know, as a journalist, that’s the job you try and do. But the truth is, you can’t follow everything, and most of the time you end up quoting other pundits and commentators. I’m attracted by the idea of actually being able to figure it out myself without relying on other people.
PM: And without the weekly deadlines that might prevent you from delving into something as much as you’d like.
MJ: Right. I’m attracted to, at this point, that kind of level of examination of what’s actually happening in our business.
PM: What prompted your move back to the Phoenix in 2005, after ten years at the Boston Globe? Were you given more freedom at the Phoenix?