Farm Club to the Stars  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   October 1996

Farm Club to the Stars   

By Sinéad OBrien
Sinéad O'Brien is a former AJR editorial assistant.     


Getting 'em while they're young, fresh and full of energy sounds more like the philosophy of a sports coach than a magazine editor, but Congressional Quarterly Executive Editor and Vice President Robert W. Merry says he's proud to think of his staff as a Triple A ball club.

In fact, cultivating a farm team to develop major leaguers is what Merry's hiring and career development philosophy is all about. He says he couldn't be happier about CQ's reputation of being a training ground for young journalists--it's something he's worked hard at since his first day at the magazine.

Merry, 50, began his journalism career 24 years ago at the Denver Post and later joined the Wall Street Journal. When he came to CQ as managing editor in 1987, Merry set out to turn CQ into the nation's premier training ground for talented young journalists. "I felt that if I could succeed at that I would have a long line of top talent wanting to work for me," he says. "That would mean better journalism, a more vibrant newsroom, better stories and everything that leads to a better publication."

Merry says he hopes that anyone at CQ with an inkling to move on makes his office the first stop. "I made it very clear from the beginning if people want to move on, I want to help them," says Merry. "Over time, we became a magnet for precisely that kind of person."

One of those people was Joan Biskupic, now Sup-reme Court reporter for the Washington Post. What Merry describes as his practice of "reloading, not rebuilding" was only in its infancy when Biskupic joined CQ in 1989, but even then she recognized that she had landed on the right team. "For the major papers," Biskupic says, "CQ is like an apprenticeship."

Phil Kuntz, who joined CQ in 1987 and now covers money and politics at the Wall Street Journal, says the opportunity Merry gave him to specialize in political ethics was what propelled his career forward. "Everyone on Bob's A-list was able to use CQ to become an expert in a particular field," Kuntz says.

Wall Street Journal budget reporter Jackie Calmes, who came to CQ from Texas in '84, says the expertise and reputation she earned from her work at CQ got her where she is now. She says she is indebted to Merry's "network to grease the way for promising young people."

Boston Globe political reporter Jill Zuckman is another CQ success story. Zuckman joined the Milwaukee Journal just out of college, and then moved on to CQ two years later. After four years at the weekly, she joined the Globe's Washington bureau. Merry "definitely gives people an opportunity to get a good job in Washington," she says. "It's hard to get that first job in Washington when you're in your twenties."

Merry's penchant for giving promising young reporters their first job in Washington has gained him a reputation among inside-the-Beltway journalists. He says Washington editors and bureau chiefs often call him when they're looking for new recruits.

"It's a terrific training ground for young reporters," says David Ignatius, the Washington Post's assistant managing editor for business news. "What CQ does is give people a chance to write at length about a lot of interesting topics." It was at CQ that Ignatius found Mike Mills, now the Post's telecommunications reporter.

Some of Merry's recruits stay on the roster for quite a while before moving on. David Cloud, a general assignment reporter at the Washington bureau of the Chicago Tribune, spent eight years at CQ. Neil Brown, a managing editor at CQ under Merry, stayed five years before joining the St. Petersburg Times, which, like CQ, is owned by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Brown is now the paper's managing editor.

Some might think Merry, who recently wrote a highly praised book about influential post-World War II columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop, would have hard feelings about his best players constantly defecting to higher-profile publications. But he says he's confident that he's still ahead of the game because he has had the opportunity to help shape the careers of so many young writers.

"I don't like to see anyone leave, but our philosophy is their careers really belong to them," he says. "If their view is they want to move on, that's more important."

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