The birth of the modern journalism reviews in the United States by working journalists, which flourished during the late 1960s through the early 1980s, is encapsulated in one paragraph by Ron Dorfman, co-organizer of the first – the Chicago Journalism Review, now long defunct.
“The Chicago Journalism Review was a product of the local newspaper coverage of the Democratic national convention (1968) and the violence that attended it in the streets of Chicago. When the convention was over and the national press had left town local editors proceeded, deliberately and shamelessly, to rewrite history in an effort to patch up Chicago’s reputation as ‘the city that works’.”
Mayor Daley had marshalled an army of police to confront thousands of protesting students. Newspapers reported that the confrontation resulted in a student riot. Reporters, some of whom were also beaten up by police, knew it was a police riot.
Dorfman recalls that newspapers told their readers that their own reporters had lied. Outraged, scores of reporters met, raised funds and published the first issue of the Chicago Journalism Review, the prototype for nearly 30 others which cropped up in cities and institutions around the United States. (The Chicago Journalism Review and other journalism reviews and alternative newspapers are in a searchable collection at the SIUC library in the Charles L. Klotzer Freedom of the Press collection.) It was a time of excitement, confidence and rejuvenation. There was a feeling that a better world was visible beyond.
The birth of SJR
The father of journalism reviews is George Seldes, who founded In Fact in 1940. He revealed, among many other exposes, that tobacco causes cancer. And he revealed that the New York Times had an understanding with the tobacco industry that it would continue advertising as long as the paper would not be critical of tobacco. His publication folded after ten years, the victim of red-baiting and blacklisting.
When I read the first issue of the Chicago Journalism Review, it struck me that here was a paper not unlike Seldes’ and it had a means to influence and reform the media that controls what we knew about the world.
The media are powerful. They define, influence, and often join forces with particular interests, which may or may not serve the general public. At the time, we thought that while politicians must always keep the electorate in mind, business leaders cannot forget their stockholders and labor leaders, their members. Who then calls the media to account for their treatment of news. (This perspective, in our time, must be viewed through the filter of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The decision opened unlimited and unchecked spending for any political cause in the media or through outside avenues.)
In 1970, I invited a number of reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat to meet. A number of local reporters, including Ted Gest then a reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, had also discussed the idea of a local journalism review and had met with organizers of the Chicago Journalism Review. They joined with others in months of discussions and meetings, creating a core group of 20 members of the working press.
In September 1970, the first issue of the St. Louis Journalism Review (SJR) appeared. Because we expected a strong reaction by the Globe and Post, it was decided not to use any bylines. Nevertheless, 13 journalists – Robert E. Adams, Margaret M. Carlan, Al Delugach, Peter A. Donhowe, Ted Gest, Charles L. Klotzer, Richard Krantz, Gerald Lindhorst, Gus Lumpe, Roy Malone, John Shelton, Ellen Sweets, Fred Sweets – decided to be included on the editorial board.
Two Globe reporters did experience severe management criticism, with Lumpe seeking other employment and Shelton resigning from SJR’s editorial board. The Post was more open-minded. At one of the sessions of key Post employees at the home of Joseph Pulitzer Jr., the editor and publisher asked whether any members of SJR were present and three hands went up. From what we know, they experienced no “official” reaction.
For my wife, Rose, and I taking up the cause of media criticism in 1970, was not as impetuous as it may sound. At the end of the century, the SJR remained the sole survivor of the privately published journalism reviews. Why had it survived? We had decided many years before that there must be more to supporting good causes than simply belonging to the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 1962, we had started publishing a magazine called FOCUS/Midwest (F/M). Before commencing publication, I consulted scores of top publishers and political leaders in the Midwest. Contact was easy because I was an organizer for the Stevenson-for-President campaign. Their advice was uniform, small magazines cannot economically survive irrespective of the need they may fill.
My wife, rather than pursue her social work career, worked with me for the next three decades or more to keep all ventures afloat. Focus/Midwest, which lasted for 21 years until it was merged into SJR in 1983, took on the whole range of social, political, economic and racial concerns that dominated the 1960s. Among its columnists was Irving Dilliard, the former Post-Dispatch editorial editor, Hubert Humphrey and Paul Simon. The contents of F/M encompassed the Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City triangle. The hope, that once F/M was self-supporting we could expand into adjacent midwestern states, remained that, a hope. F/M never did expand.
We kept expenses at a minimum, operating out of our basement and acquiring typesetting equipment, looking like a typewriter but capable of imitating sophisticated typesetting. The system, we realized, offered a separate source of income, a typesetting business.
Thus when we met with reporters to organize SJR in 1970, the one-year-old typesetting business was profitable and we could not resist the temptation to publish a second periodical.
St. Louis journalists endorsed the concept that only the press can insure an informed public, which is needed to make democracy work. An informed public, declared the inaugural issue of SJR, requires that every segment of society knows about the needs, fears and hopes of all others, irrespective of the powers which represent the status quo.
In the early years, coverage of the media nearly exclusively concentrated on the St. Louis area. SJR’s policies and coverage depended very much on volunteers who researched issues, met and discussed submissions, proofread copy and even pasted up copy for the ten-issues-per-year journal.
Over the next five decades it was co-edited by Rich Lowenstein, Steve Means, Roland Klose, Staci Kramer and Ed Bishop. Klose, who joined us in 1982, also helped edit F/M for its last four issues. A supportive community of reporters, academics and others working in media related professions evolved over the years. They met monthly to discuss the current issue and made suggestions for future issues.
In 1983, it became too difficult to maintain two deficit publications. We decided to merge F/M with SJR. Outside commentators kept critiquing SJR that it sacrificed its “media objectivity” by embracing F/M’s social reform drive. They were correct.
While the St. Louis had a slick city magazine and an alternative weekly, the Riverfront Times, and–at the time–three black newspapers, none of these engaged in investigative journalism. At the time, Dilliard, former editorial editor of the Post, a supporter of F/M and SJR, warned, “The counting house runs far too much of American journalism today.”
The issues below highlight why reporters felt that it is their ethical duty to report on shortcomings of their employer. Some were accused of biting the hand that fed them.
The first issue revealed that the Post and Globe had established in secret a Joint Operating Agency (JOA) and had joined all their departments except for news and editorial coverage thus splitting profits. A Post editor called accusing SJR of libel and threatening legal action. All SJR had done was report on Publisher Pulitzer’s statement before the U.S. Subcommittee of Antitrust and Monopoly.
SJR’s coverage of the Globe demise by Roland Klose was the only investigation that showed that the Globe circulation exceeded that of the Post. When Pulitzer offered S.I. Newhouse, owner of the Globe, 50% of profits under the continuing JOA. Newhouse could not afford to turn It down and agreed to close the Globe. Newhouse retained part ownership until Lee Enterprises bought the Pulitzer Company.
Suburban Journals, before they were bought by the Post, banned African-Americans from being pictured on the front page above the fold.
A student reporter at the University of Missouri School of Journalism carried a wire for the Columbia, Missouri, police with the permission of faculty in order to entrap a solicitor for providing nude dancers. When SJR’s report made national news the relationship between SJR and the School of Journalism soured.
Local media ignored for years how the police dealt with young African-Americans who assembled in downtown streets late Sunday nights to socialize during the summer. Police would corral the car cruisers towards the highway and blocking all exits until they were in the suburbs. Not only the cruisers but all drivers could not exit till they were in the suburbs.
The Alton Telegraph, an Illinois daily across the river from St. Louis, fired its cartoonist and editor after local bank complained that a cartoon was critical of the bank.
In the summer of 1971, one of the Post’s investigative reporters became a paid informer for the St. Louis police and testified before then US House Internal Security Committee. The reporter claimed he was not “paid” because what he was paid just covered his expenses. The Post just pressured him to quit being an informer.
The Post had information of the publisher of the then best-known local Black papers that he was an informer for the FBI. He published derogatory Items about leftist groups. When the Post failed to publish this information, a Post reporter turned over the material to SJR. The Post did publish similar material about the Globe, its competitor.
SJR made a more lasting contribution when we questioned the Post sports editor why he had only white male reporters. That question never occurred to him and he agreed that women and African-Americans should be on his staff. So he hired one African-American woman, Lorraine Key, covering both fields.
Al Delugach, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, left the Post when the paper published on page three instead on page one Delugach’s scoop of Life Magazine’s article by Denny Walsh—with whom he had worked when both were at the Globe–of alleged ties between St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes and organized crime. Many newspapers throughout the country played it on page one. The Globe also played it on page three. Both papers downplayed the charges and called them innuendos. The Mayor was given extensive space for rebuttals.
In the 1980s, we got to know Hyman P. Minsky, who taught economics at Washington University. While we were unschooled about the intricacies of economics, his ideas were appealing, and he agreed to write a regular column. Today his “financial instability hypothesis” refined in the 1970s, is known throughout economic academia as the “Minsky’s moment.”
Concerned about survival
Having been involved in publishing for thirty years and having witnessed the closing of journalism reviews throughout the country, we searched for a new home in the late 1990s. While many local universities were eager to accept it, they were unable to provide any subsidies. Don Corrigan, professor of journalism at Webster University, and a long-time supporter and writer for SJR, after many discussions and negotiations talked his university into sponsoring SJR.
At the time, Ed Bishop was co-editing SJR and had been for a number of years. He agreed to stay with SJR at Webster and also teach there. During the years at Webster from 1995 to 2005, he became an institution in his own right. When he died in 2016, his obituary stated, he was “a journalist cut from old-school cloth, a cantankerous grader, and a man of considerable wit and outspoken opinions.” Ed remained a rabble-rouser through SJR and a teacher loved by many of his students. During the years at Webster, Ed had the help of Tammy Merrett-Murray, not only in bookkeeping but also in proofreading and other essential tasks.
In 2005, when Webster decided that they could not afford to continue subsidizing SJR, they offered to continue SJR as an online venue. That alternative had been suggested for many years, but we considered it unacceptable, we were addicted to the feel of paper.
At that point, the media hastened to declare the end of SJR.
But SJR had created a community of support, both financially and editorially, that kept SJR alive. Under the legal direction of Mark Sableman, a decade-long supporter and writer for SJR, a board of directors was established with Dave Garino, another veteran supporter and guide, as chair. The late Roy Malone agreed to become editor with the help of Avis Meyer and many other writers, while our search for a new home continued for the next five years.
As part of the downsizing of Post staff, William Freivogel, a Post-Dispatch editor, moved to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as chair of its School of Journalism. With his help, SJR was adopted by the School of Journalism at SIU Carbondale in 2010 with the explicit condition—like at Webster University—that SJR will editorially remain independent.
The new owners established a free weekly online newsletter, while reducing its publishing schedule to quarterly and added the name of Gateway Journalism Review that reflected its wider geographic coverage. It is produced by Prof. William Freivogel, publisher, and Jackie Spinner, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Columbia College Chicago, as editor.
GJR has established an annual “Celebration of the First Amendment” that features prominent media personalities—such as Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Judy Woodruff–and solicits public support. The success of these events depend upon the labor of many supporters, such as Jessica Z. Brown, Da Sullivan and man others.
Beyond doubt, this brief summary has left out the support contributed by hundreds of journalists and supporters over the past fifty years. My apologies.
Charles L. Klotzer was founder of the Greater St. Louis Jewish Star and later, editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light. In 1970, Klotzer and his wife Rose founded the St. Louis Journalism Review, which was later renamed as the Gateway Journalism Review.