13 Years Before the Masthead  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    TOP OF THE REVIEW    
From AJR,   June 2000

13 Years Before the Masthead   

AJR freshens up, ties down and looks ahead.

By Reese Cleghorn
Reese Cleghorn is former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland.     


This column began in September 1987, soon after Jessica and Henry Catto gave AJR (then Washington Journalism Review) to the University of Maryland College of Journalism. Next month the reins, or the keyboard, go over to Tom Kunkel as he succeeds me as dean of the school and president of AJR.

In that first column I said the magazine "will be tough, tender, resourceful and forward-looking," and this: "In examining the critical issues and sometimes the trivia of our field, it will explore the absurd as well as the profound. It will be good journalism. It will not be grim, prim and priggish."

We also would concern ourselves with sea changes in ownership, the effects of new technology and the advancement of women and minority journalists. And: "We will feel no compulsion to offer a sermon with each report; but our reports will not be value-free.... WJR will stand for something."

I think it has, and we keep hearing that in the new landscape of megamedia and nanosecond journalism it makes a difference.

The magazine started with irregular frequency in 1977. It later was saved from oblivion by our friends Jessica and Henry, prominent Texans, who published it as an independent, feisty, money-losing part of a company that owned network television stations. By the time we took it over, it already had become the most respected of the national journalism magazines, according to a survey of newspaper editors.

When we changed the name to American Journalism Review in 1993, we pointed out to our readers that we already had become what the name reflected. Less than 20 percent of our circulation was in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. AJR has the broadest national distribution in the field.

The road sometimes has been rocky, and the newspaper recession of the early '90s, with a big sag in advertising for us, almost put us out of business. But the magazine has continued to grow in stature and in quality under the remarkably able editorship of Rem Rieder. Its small staff is simply wonderful; some time ago a national magazine consultant effused over its loyalty, dedication and pride, noting that the staff was producing more pages per person than on any other magazine he had ever encountered.

Last month, for the first time, we had color on every editorial page. New innovations are coming. And this month we are beginning significant follow-up reports on our unprecedented series on the State of the American Newspaper.

Thanks to major funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation, AJR can build its strengths for a long-term future. But journalism reviews are like symphony orchestras and universities: Nobody expects them to turn a profit.

It's been a wonderful ride. The editor says I can pitch in a piece now and then from my office nearby, when I'm not advising Maryland students, teaching a class or writing something else.

Take care out there.

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