Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vanderkam on CJR/Navasky/The Nation, part II

A few months ago, Laura Vanderkam (of Reader's Digest and USA Today) wrote a column in The (DC) Examiner entitled,
Hammered: How blogs are shattering the arrogance of the Columbia Journalism Review and why that's good for journalism
As I have written before, how appropriate.

Last Friday, in light of recent developments, Vanderkam wrote an excellent companion column. (The column unfortunately appeared in the print edition only. This link might get you there; navigate to June 3, page 18.)

Vanderkam makes a some interesting points:
  • It's lucky for CJR that all media critics last week were focused on Deep Throat.
  • A sampling of recent CJR articles shows its politics not too far from The Nation's.
  • An institute affiliated with The Nation is funding some content in CJR.
And she credits and quotes this blog liberally, showing unquestioned good judgment...

Here (with permission from the author) is a reprint of the article:

(Update: Image of print version of article removed from blog page because it messed up the other graphics on the page. Here is a link to the image.)

Here is the text:

The Examiner
Friday, June 3, 2005

Told ya so: Columbia Journalism Review does lean left
Laura Vanderkam

Some folks are just lucky. Big stories bury smaller stories that might otherwise raise eye­brows. With media critics swooning over Deep Throat, few will notice another story involving politics, the media and a clandestine adviser.

On Wednesday, Editor & Publisher's Graham Webster confirmed that Victor Navasky, publisher of left-wing journal The Nation, has been "working behind the scenes in a key, if uncredited, role at the Columbia Journalism Review." Brought in by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism dean Nicho­las Lemann, Navasky was originally tapped to shore up CJR’s weak finances. But his role has evolved, and now both CJR’s publisher and executive editor actually report to Navasky. He does not, however appear on the masthead.

He will appear there next issue as "Chairman." It’s not just that CJR contributors such as Scott Sherman and Trudy Lieberman also write for The Nation. The head of The Nation is in fact overseeing CJR!

But you have to wonder if CJR ever planned to announce its publish­er answers to The Nation’s publisher, if E&P hadn’t picked up the story. The current CJR excerpts Navasky’s new book, "A Matter of Opinion," and merely notes in the middle of his bio that he "serves as a financial and editorial advisor to this magazine." A conservative blogger named “David M” received a tip about that informa­tion, smelled something funny and decided to dig deeper into the rela­tionship.

“Imagine this scenario,” David M wrote on his Web site. “A supposedly unbiased publication is being run by someone with a clear political bias, and that person is not listed on the publication’s masthead. It’s just the type of story that media watchdog Columbia Journalism Review would love to uncover. Only in this case, CJR is the perpetrator.”

David M called Navasky, who confirmed he was guiding CJR, though he downplayed his role. He said, "I’m trying to help them out. I'm hoping to provide more editorial direction down the road, but I’m focused now on improving the finances."

Some might see the Navasky-CJR link as perfectly innocent. Magazines don’t update mastheads often. Navasky does have experience pushing a small magazine’s finances towards the black. The Nation’s circulation soared over 180,000 this year. That’s about eight times CJR’S numbers. And Navasky was close at hand — he’s on the faculty at Columbia’s jour­nalism school

But there are other small success­ful magazines out there without left­ist agendas. Why did CJR feel such a kinship with The Nation that Na­vaky was the obvious choice? The current issue’s table of contents of­fers some clues. A hit piece on the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, for instance, says the company strives to be “Fox News’s cruder but equally zealous acolyte” by running conser­vative commetary in its local news programs, among other sins (like not owning a helicopter). Then "After Rupert," by Neil Hickey muses on what would happen if News Corporation’s conservative CEO was hit by a bus. The line between the politics of CJR and The Nation is awfully blurry.

One reason might be that an in­stitute affiliated with The Nation is now paying the bill for content that appears in CJR’S pages and is written by CJR’s staff. In the latest issue, a piece called “Stations of the Cross,” by a CJR assistant editor, appears with the note that it was supported by the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. The article attempts to explain religious broadcasting to the CJR au­dience. “Evangelical news looks and sounds much like its secular coun­terpart,” Blake writes, "but it homes in on issues of concern to believers and filters events through a conser­vative lens. In some cases this simply means giving greater weight to the conservative side of the ledger than most media do. In other instances, it amounts to disguising a partisan agenda as news.”

CJR could have countered the scent of slant by bringing in addition­al advisers with experience at small magazines. Fortunately for CJR, though, media critics everywhere are too busy reminiscing about the glory days of Watergate to ask why not.

Laura Vanderkam, a contributing editor to Reader’s Digest, is a member of USA Today’s board of contributors.