CJR’s most popular stories of 2019

This year, CJR released three different print magazines focused on the state of international journalism, how the media looks to those outside of it, and the battle against disinformation. We co-founded the Covering Climate Now initiative, and collaborated with hundreds of outlets in order to more fully report on the global climate crisis. We also made an appearance in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. To celebrate the end of 2019, we compiled a list of our most popular stories published this year. Here’s the countdown:

10. White House revokes press passes for dozens of journalists

In May, the White House stripped press passes from a chunk of the Washington press corps. Many reporters lost what is known as a “hard pass,” the highest level of access, which had previously allowed them to enter the grounds without seeking permission every day. The White House press secretary told The Washington Post at the time that the move was a result of security concerns, not a desire to crack down on specific reporters. Still, many felt that the move was another example of the administration trying to exert control over journalists.

9. Why the Left Can’t Stand The New York Times

The reading habits of Amber A’Lee Frost, a Socialist who contributes to Chapo Trap House, often surprise liberals. Her newspaper of choice is the Financial Times. Compared to the New York Times, which Frost calls “the flagship publication for liberal triumphalism,” the FT’s news coverage is usually deeper, she argues. “The reporters generally have more expertise; the coverage is more comprehensive both geographically and substantively; even the op-eds are better (likely because they are far fewer, and they’re not used to pad the paper with “content”—confessionals, puff pieces, listicles—rather than reporting),” she writes. “Most refreshing, the FT does not lose itself in the mire of myopic American culture wars, which very rarely breach the surface of material politics and/or economics.”

8. The frustrating persistence of Lance Armstrong

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Ryan Simonovich highlights how Lance Armstrong has managed to have a career as a sports commentator despite his well-publicized doping scandal: both Outside magazine and NBC Sports have hired him for coverage of the Tour de France. Some argue that Armstrong’s cycling expertise stands apart from his past use of performance-enhancing drugs. Others, however, feel that he’s lost credibility. 

7. Dropshipping journalism 

By using aggressive tactics to capitalize on viral content, Newsweek has imperiled its reputation, Daniel Tovrov reported in an October feature. “Chasing cheap traffic from Google and from Facebook shares is one method, but by doing so Newsweek is asphyxiating its own efforts to build a loyal readership,” Tovrov wrote.

6. How Esquire lost the Bryan Singer story

In late January, The Atlantic published allegations of predatory behavior against film director Bryan Singer. But the authors of the piece—Alex French and Maximillian Potter—are on the masthead of Esquire. Elon Green talked to the writers, who detailed their months-long reporting process and revealed how their story was originally killed by Hearst executives.

5. MSNBC public editor: The Chuck Todd show  

Chuck Todd isn’t entertained. The Meet the Press host and other MSNBC anchors commented that Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in July lacked pizzazz. Maria Bustillos, our public editor for the network, called them out for reporting on politics as if it were entertainment. “May I suggest that if you, a journalist, are bored with the politics of this—if you are demanding somehow to be entertained, right now—you’re not doing your job.”

4. Op-Ed: Bernie Sanders on his plan for journalism

Vermont senator and 2020 candidate Bernie Sanders wrote an op-ed for CJR about the current state of the media and his vision for the future of journalism. He argues that deregulation has led to the corporatization of news and made reporting susceptible to influence by those who can buy it. Sanders then says his administration would strengthen media-ownership rules and enforce antitrust laws against tech giants.

3. Bad Romance  

The National Enquirer ditched its usual salacious, thinly sourced celebrity stories to do Donald Trump’s bidding. The tabloid admitted to coordinating hush money payments with Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen, violating campaign finance law. Now, the Enquirer is going through an identity crisis. Simon van Zuylen-Wood asks whether the magazine can resuscitate itself by returning to “tastelessly, gloriously airing the dirty laundry of the rich and famous.” 

2. Twitter hates me. The Des Moines Register fired me. Here’s what really happened.   

Aaron Calvin’s tenure as a trending-news reporter Des Moines Register ended after he told the story of Carson King, an Iowan who became famous via a successful fundraiser for a children’s hospital. Calvin explains in this first-person piece that unearthing offensive social media posts from King sparked a backlash, and the paper made him its sacrificial offering.

1. I wrote a story that became a legend. Then I discovered it wasn’t true. 

In 1999, a semi-truck caught fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel, a seven-mile passage that connects Italy and France. Mark Gardiner wrote a “once-in-a-lifetime piece” about a man named Pierlucio “Spadino” Tinazzi who died while saving people from the fire. As he says in the piece, his 2003 tale of Tinazzi’s bravery went “viral before going viral was really a thing.” But when Gardiner was asked by the New York Times to write a feature about the fire, he discovered Tinazzi couldn’t have saved anyone. For 14 years, Gardiner had taken pride in the false story. “It felt like someone I had been married to for years had been cheating on me all along.”

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.