Columbia Journalism Review earns Bart Richards Award

Columbia Journalism Review, which focused half of its six issues in 2009 on the survival of serious journalism in the United States, has earned the 2009 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism.

"CJR really tackled some of the essential problems of the day in our profession," said Barbara Cochran, president emeritus of the Radio and Television News Directors Association and one of three judges for the award. "They didn't just do one issue or a small attempt. They thoughtfully considered the problem and what to do about it."

The Bart Richards Award, presented annually by the College of Communications at Penn State, recognizes outstanding contributions to print and broadcast journalism through responsible analysis or critical evaluation. The award is intended to recognize constructively critical articles, books and electronic media reports; academic and other research; and reports by media ombudsmen and journalism watchdog groups.

This year's award honors work produced during the 2009 calendar year. It will be presented Thursday, May 27, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In 2009, CJR used three of its six issues to address different aspects of the question about journalism's survival. Those included:

  • -- "Do or Die: Journalism's search for a support system," about news innovation, and the search for new models and support systems for news;
  • -- "No Free Lunch: How to split the tab for news," addressing payment models for the services of news organizations; and
  • -- "The Reconstruction of American Journalism," a proposal with six specific ways to support serious journalism of all kinds.

Judges believed the yearlong effort was unparalleled.

"The future of journalism will be 'crowdsourced,' meaning it will be shaped via a great ongoing conversation. We did our best in 2009 to further and deepen that conversation," said CJR executive editor Mike Hoyt. "We're greatly honored by the award." Hoyt edited the series with Brent Cunningham, CJR's managing editor/print.

At the same time, another CJR finalist for the award, "Power Problem," a 6,400-word article by Dean Starkman that critiqued the work of business and economic journalists leading up to the U.S. financial crisis, earned a separate special recognition from the judges.

Starkman's article found that those media outlets focusing on financial news did not provide ample warning about the impending problems, even though they claimed they had. His effort, with the help of two other CJR staff members -- Elinore Longobardi and Megan McGinley -- over a three-month period, included an evaluation of thousands of articles on banking, mortgages and Wall Street from Jan. 1, 2000, to Jan. 30, 2007. Starkman also produced and online database of more than 700 stories to accompany the story and provide examples of coverage that was sometimes good but more often off the mark and simply wrong.

"His work challenged and ultimately debunked the narrative of the mainstream business-press establishment," Hoyt said. "We hope it leads to a greater recognition that the interests of Wall Street and the interests of the reader are not necessarily the same."

Again, the judges agreed.

"He was addressing what people were saying all over the country," said judge Will Norton, dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. "It was a compelling story and an impressive effort."

"It was a fascinating piece," said judge Rich Holden, executive director of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. "His reporting and the quality of writing made the piece very strong."

According to its mission statement, Columbia Journalism Review, founded in 1961 under the auspices of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism,  works to encourage and stimulate excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. It strives to fulfill roles as both a watchdog and a friend of the press in all its forms -- newspapers, magazine, radio, television and the Internet.

CJR examines day-to-day press performance as well as the forces that affect that performance. The magazine is published six times a year, and offers a mix of reporting, analysis, commentary and criticism. The group’s Web site, CJR.org, delivers real-time criticism and reporting.

The May 27 award presentation will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Penn State alumni and friends are welcome to attend. For more information about the reception and award presentation, please call (814) 865-8801 or visit http://comm.psu.edu/bart online.

Previous winners of the Bart Richards Award include: Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008; PBS “Frontline,” 2007; Byron Calame, public editor of The New York Times, 2006; Sydney Schanberg, a columnist for The Village Voice, 2005; “State of the News Media” by Project for Excellence in Journalism (Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel), 2004; Lori Robertson for articles in American Journalism Review, 2003; Allan Wolper for "Ethics Corner" in Editor & Publisher, 2002; Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel for “The Elements of Journalism,” 2001; and The Media Unit of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 2000.

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Last Updated March 25, 2010