letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our May/June issue
July 1, 2013

The draw

Re: “Streams of consciousness” by Ben Adler (CJR, May/June) Great read! As a millennial, I of course found it lengthy, and had to bookmark and come back a couple of times. But good content always wins. #LongForm-Journalism FTW ;-)

Rob Graham
Orlando, FL

Junk food

Re: Your editorial “Empty calories: To feed young minds, let’s add some nutrition to social media” (CJR, May/June) Sadly, most of what is churned out on social-media sites is opinion over facts, and so many people swallow whole whatever they hear, no matter how far-fetched. Social media has such an enormous reach, but ensuring that what is spread on these sites is original and relevant to the important things in the world today (as opposed to Bieber’s monkey) is a tall ask.

Steve Wright
Bungay, Suffolk, UK

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Smoking gun

Thank you for covering this story (“Sticking with the truth” by Curtis Brainard, CJR, May/June). Andrew Wakefield may have loaded the anti-vaccine gun with his fraudulent study, but credulous news media outlets pulled the trigger.

Ken Reibel
Milwaukee, WI

Research is constantly amiss or badly reported. The stories with research that breaks from the crowd, even if flawed, are what the media wants. No one wants to report on another piece of research confirming what is already widely reported.

Balance within the bbc is also a difficulty, which meant that when programming for the Darwin project a couple of years ago, creationists were sought to give “balance” when the weight of opinion makes them left-field loons. Misapplied balance is the biggest threat to rational reporting. I am a media trainer at www.jdoubler.co.uk and a former BBC journalist. I’ve had to book guests for “balance” when I know there is only one side to a story because that’s what producer guidelines dictate.

John Rockley
Ruspidge, Gloucestershire, UK

With due respect to the Tampa Bay Times, which is an excellent newspaper, particularly for its coverage of Scientology, the paper “ignored established science” when it pushed for the return of fluoridation in Pinellas County. At the same time, it was editorializing for fluoridation when it published a meta-analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health confirming the accuracy of over 20 studies on endemic fluorosis in China that found that fluoride in drinking water damaged children’s brains as measured in lower IQ test scores. It seems newspapers and TV are not that good in covering stories in which experts disagree. Perhaps there should be a new prize for it.

Michael F. Dolan, PhD
Department of Geosciences, UMass
Amherst, MA

Above the fold

Ryan Chittum’s excellent article, “An Ink-Stained Stretch” (CJR, May/June) should be required reading for all of the credulous publishers and editors in America who swallowed the “digital first” hype of Internet consultants for years on end, even as their own newspapers went up in smoke. I especially liked the line regarding Aaron Kushner, new owner of the Orange County Register: “His thesis is simple, but highly contrarian: Newspapers are dying in large part from self-inflicted wounds . . .”

Amen, brothers and sisters.

A few of us have been out here crying in the wilderness against the digital hype and its lackluster blogs and delusions, at the helm of newspapers that remain strong and packed with journalism and features, precisely because we never drank the online Kool-Aid.

Robert Downes
Managing editor and co-publisher

Northern Express Weekly
Traverse City, MI

The New York Times charges $20 a month; the Boston Globe $3.99 a week. I subscribe to both papers, digital only. Much as I would enjoy subscribing to the Orange County Register, I will not pay an inflated one-price-fits-all price at the same rate as a print subscription. They need to have some kind of tier system.

Ann Beebe
Encino, CA

In memoriam

Sara Morrison’s well-reported, very moving piece (“See you on the other side” cjr, May/June) about Jessica Lum, whose tragic death cut short a very promising life in journalism, leads to something important to remember. Although there is much (justified!) wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth these days about the multiplicity of delivery methods and the difficulty in obtaining paid work in journalism, we need to think about the many Jessica Lums in our world: young people who are inspired and driven to do meaningful reporting; young people who will pay whatever dues they have to–at least for a while–looking for a break; young people who need to be taught, mentored, supported. We should be honored by her example, and dedicated in her memory.

Larry Bensky
Berkeley, CA

Jessica was the perfect example of a life well lived. It’s not the length of life; it’s the depth. Stunning and heartfelt story.

Lynne Tully
Winthrop, MA


Thanks, Beryl Lieff Benderly, for her article on the erroneous notion that the US suffers a shortage of STEM workers (“It doesn’t add up,” CJR, May/June). I have worked in IT for nearly 40 years, and although I’m nearing retirement, I keep fighting the guest-worker program (H1-B) with my senator and congressman. Our government is allowing corporations to fill challenging jobs with cheap labor. The guest-worker program was designed to bring over from other countries their “best and brightest”; instead, we are bringing over sub-par workers at a discount. There is no shortage of qualified college grads, and we should put them to work before resorting to hiring guest workers. Unfortunately, my argument keeps falling on deaf ears.

Greg Sherman
Comment posted on CJR.org

Congratulations again to Beryl Benderly on another terrific piece that exposes the obvious truth, when most of the press is mesmerized by PR nonsense from the tech giants.

Steve Apfelroth
New York, NY

I’m not in the STEM field, so I really appreciate Beryl Benderly’s careful marshaling of the facts and avoidance of inflammatory remarks or exaggeration. Her article is a valuable contribution toward understanding an issue of major importance for stem professionals and for our country.

George A. Goldberg
Santa Monica, CA

The majority of our engineers beyond their mid-40s are now either unemployed or underemployed. Half of our nation’s graduates with STEM degrees are unable to find work in STEM fields. Yet 30 to 50 percent of all new IT jobs go to foreigners on temporary US work visas.

These facts are well known in corporate boardrooms. But cheap labor has been a boon to their profits (at a six-decade high and massively profitable to foreign interests–the top 10 users are off-source, outsourcing companies with six headquartered in India).

Tens of thousands have written their representatives; many have testified; and every unbiased study has proven that corporate claims of “skilled labor shortage” are a lie; and that there is indeed an abundance of Americans with every bit of smarts, skills, and education to fill any and all job openings.

Over-50, unemployed engineer
Dallas, TX


In “The back page” by Jeffrey Robinson (CJR, May/June), we had it wrong: Murray Weiss didn’t begin his career at the International Herald Tribune, but at the New York Herald Tribune. And in “Streams of consciousness” by Ben Adler (CJR, May/June), ABC News is a client of Storyful, not NBC News.

Notes from our online readers

In early June, CJR science news reporter Curtis Brainard wrote a piece that praised Discover Magazine blogger Keith Kloor for forging a beat out of noting when media publish work that misleadingly calls genetically modified food dangerous. Some GMOs, Brainard said, have been deemed safe by the likes of the World Health Organization. “The media have stoked irrational distrust of science in many fields over the years, from vaccines to climate change,” Brainard wrote. “But today, such fear-mongering is most evident in the coverage of genetically modified foods, with many journalists turning people against them.” He lauded Kloor for pieces about The New York Times, CNN, Reuters, and The Guardian. Readers responded:

I’m glad to have someone taking a harder look at this topic. But I wish there were more people doing it regularly. Plant-science facts are as important as climate-science facts as far as I’m concerned, but get a lot less ink (or electrons, I suppose). –Mary

Kloor is not interested in the science or journalism on the issue of GMOs. He consistently pollutes the Internet with false, misleading, and biased information from biased sources. In the past year, he hasn’t published a single article representing the public-health community and public-health concerns of this technology. Instead, he consistently gives the microphone to industrial PR reps of agricultural interests and other junk scientists advocating for industrial GMOs. If Kloor is your idea of good science journalism, you are supportive of blatantly biased journalism, corruption of the media with marketing propaganda, and censorship. –dogctor

Your assessment of Kloor is right on. He plays a vital role in calling other journalists to task when they focus their coverage on a tiny fraction of fringe scientists, rather than the scientific mainstream and vast majority of scientific research which finds currently approved GMOs safe. We should all hope for better journalism that captures the state of scientific debates (including the weight of evidence on each side) rather than amplifying scary yet discredited findings. –Ramez Naam

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.