letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our September/October issue
November 1, 2013


While I can certainly appreciate the idea behind the cover of the September/October 2013 CJR, I do not appreciate the f-word being used so blatantly and prominently.

I am not on a crusade to clean up America’s pottymouth. I realize millions of Americans use this word every day. I have friends who can use it as a noun, adjective, verb, and adverb. I understand the concept of free speech; and, as a lifelong journalist, freedom of the press is something I advocate and cherish.

I’m sure there are instances where I would agree the use of the word is warranted. The cover of a magazine describing journalism isn’t one of them.

Donnita Nesbit Fisher
Managing Editor, Van Zandt Newspapers
Canton, TX

Could we keep the profanity off the cover?

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While most readers of the Review would never admit to being offended by the crude language, some of us leave the magazine lying around the house or on our office desk where it is subject to being read by those not sophisticated enough to recognize the high quality journalism being displayed by its use. Seriously, would you consider this appropriate on the front page of a newspaper? If not, why would you think it is okay on the cover of your magazine?

Hugh Bouchelle
Buena Vista, VA

I spent 30 years in broadcast news; for the past 18 years I have been teaching media relations to agencies of public safety and municipal government around the country. I am a lifelong Journalist with a capital “J” and I am very proud of that. Today when I received the September/October issue of CJR I was appalled and ashamed.

How dare CJR include the F-bomb on its cover! The F-bomb has no place anywhere in CJR! Putting it on the magazine cover was outrageously offensive! Whatever else Journalism may or may not be, it must lead, not pander or follow. As we in the United States continue to witness the slow but steady degradation of social norms, Journalism–with a capital “J”–must stand as one of the last bastions of civilized discourse, “to speak out for what is right, fair, and decent” as CJR proudly–rightly!–highlights “from the founding editorial, 1961.”

When Newsweek magazine began dropping the F-bomb casually into its reporting, I cancelled my subscription. With sadness, and with deep regret, I also do so now with CJR. CJR’s insensitive, stupid attempt at–humor? sensationalism? “edginess?”–was sick, lame, and wrong. You have lost all credibility with me. Please cancel my subscription immediately and send me a check for the unused balance. Alternatively, feel free to “keep the change” and apply that money toward trying to recover CJR’s integrity and sense of propriety and direction going forward.

Rick Rosenthal
President, RAR Communications, Inc.
Winnetka, IL

You stay home. I’ll go.

I think the word Jay is searching for but for some reason is reluctant to use is that journalism is about public things rather than private things (“The ‘awayness’ problem,” CJR, September/October). Also, for those of us who study journalism, I think it muddies the waters to think of journalism as an act rather than an occupational group. Journalism is a culture; it has its own folkways, its own sense of the world. A blogger may produce news but isn’t part of this culture. So I think it is better to say that news production is an act, and journalism is only one group of folks who produce the news. Saying it this way retains an important distinction, in my mind.

David Ryfe
Comment on cjr.org

An old friend of mine, Kristie Linden, a journalist at the Jeannette Spirit newspaper in Pennsylvania, once expressed this concept of “awayness” to me beautifully. Discussing how she views her role as a journalist in Jeannette, she said, “You’ve worked all day; it’s raining. You stay home. I’ll go.”

Jennifer Day
Comment on cjr.org

Journalist, a.k.a. park ranger

While I respect many of the respondents’ opinions on “What is journalism for” (CJR, September/October), it rings a bit too idealistic. If the summation of these entries was true, journalists would be like mail carriers and park rangers–publicly funded for the common good.

What journalism is for is to make money. Through history (and especially now), the industry’s decisions are made with the best interest of finances in mind. Top-level decisions that align with the greater journalistic good are more likely happy coincidences than public missions.

I don’t want this to be cynical, just representative. I believe in the passion and power of journalists. But I also believe that to gauge the utility of journalism without addressing financial incentives is naive at best, and destructive at worst.

John Turner
Comment on cjr.org

What is the purpose of journalism? That question depends on whether there is a profession of journalism, as “profession” is described at Wikipedia and elsewhere. My firsthand experience as a federal whistleblower who has interacted with a number of journalists over the years is that most journalists do NOT consider themselves to be members of a profession. Maybe a trade or guild, but profession–no.

Professions, by definition, are significantly self-regulating via one or more professional credentials that are earned by some combination of experience, exam, and education, and which can be removed/revoked for cause. There is no professional credential in journalism–such as “board certified editor/investigative reporter/beat reporter”–that signifies a journalist is professionally trustworthy–competent, ethical, and accountable.

So there really is no profession of journalism as there really is no viable code of ethics for members of the journalism profession. Only journalists can change that and they seem to lack the moral courage to self-regulate via some professional credential. And they wonder why they are not much trusted or respected by the public. So anyone who wants to claim to be a journalist is one, and journalism is for whatever anyone wants it to be for, including just being another name for “public relations,” and a “tool for reputation management.”

Maybe the accurate answer is “the purpose of the word “journalism” is to allow members of the public relations profession to better manage the reputations of their clients/employers.” After all, the public relations profession is inhabited by many who formerly called themselves “journalists.”

Joe Carson
Comment on cjr.org

International relations

The editors: The following letter slipped through the editorial shuffle last time around.

The article by David Conrad (“Underwritten or undercut?” CJR, July/August) looks at the funding of journalists filing stories from overseas by two nonprofit groups, but does so through the rearview mirror. Looking through the front windshield would show that these groups, among others, are using new technologies and new support mechanisms to provide international news on multiple platforms to new and diverse audiences.

The expressed concern is that the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the International Reporting Project have supplanted traditional news organizations as arbiters of international coverage. These two groups didn’t shrink the size of the press corps covering the world outside US borders–that happened when readers fell away, advertising shifted, the news hole got reduced, staffs got cut, and budgets got slashed. These groups and others have come in to fill the gap. If they disappeared tomorrow, the old days would not return. (Disclosure: Jon Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center serves on the board of the National Press Foundation, but did not see this letter before submission.)

The concern in the Conrad piece is that the staffs at the two organizations “aren’t governed by the interests of a general readership, and they can’t provide the vetting of stories that occurs in a major newsroom.” Editors can always send it back for more reporting or better tape. If the story is inherently compromised because the independent journalists have taken nonprofit money, the news organizations can simply refuse to work with them ahead of time. And if the allegation were true, a real live desk editor might have told us about the shoddy quality of the work she receives from PC- or IRP-supported reporters. But we never hear from such a person.

In fact, Conrad never tells us what’s wrong with the stories he’s criticizing, except that he doesn’t like the way the authors are paid. The article voices complaints that the nonprofits, funded by philanthropies, are forcing coverage into their own limited spheres. It cites “sanitation, gender issues, food security, maternal mortality” as topics that have been funded by the NGOs. Those topics of course have also appeared in the traditional media. And in the developing world, these are the issues. Conrad interviews four journalists who also worry about the groups’ impact. Curiously, all four have received funding from either IRP or PC. As has Mr. Conrad, the author. So how bad can they be?

Furthermore, the article leaves the internet out entirely. It leaves out social media, and it leaves out the impact of videos that are embedded in online stories. In just one example, on August 13, there was a lead story on the Pulitzer site about wealthy Chinese citizens seeking to buy land in Iceland for a variety of speculative reasons. The story is part project called “The Melting Arctic,” on the impact of global warming and other changes on countries in the Arctic Circle. The Pulitzer Center told me that over the last year it had over 1.3 million visitors and 2.2 million page views. After views from within the US, it was viewed most frequently by people in India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey, the UK, Canada, Spain, Thailand, and Australia. Along with visitors to its website, there are a host of social media platforms that provide links and snippets–17,000 people on Facebook alone.

Impact journalism comes from people seeing your stuff. The people who animate these numbers are voting with their eyeballs. They could not care less whether the story has a car ad next to it or the reporter got some money from a 501(c)3 to pay for meals.

Bob Meyers
President, National Press Foundation
Washington, DC


We incorrectly credited the photo in the September/October On the Job, “Boomdocks.” Credit belongs to Ben Garvin.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.