John Hughes

My long love affair with Monitor journalism

From correspondent, to editor, to columnist, I've seen radical changes in journalism and the world.

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This is my last regularly scheduled column for The Christian Science Monitor. [See editor's note at the end of this column.]

The column began 27 years ago, although my association – or perhaps it should more properly be called my love affair – with the Monitor goes back much further.

A lot has changed in the world, and a lot has changed with journalism, during that span of time. This is an occasion for retrospection.

I was hired by Erwin Canham, one of the most awe-inspiring editors of his day. After a spell in the Boston office, I was the Monitor’s Africa correspondent for six years, then Far Eastern correspondent for six years, and eventually I became editor of the paper for nine years.

I left to run some small newspapers of my own, then was recruited for media-related roles in the Reagan administration. When the last one, at the State Department, ended, The Washington Post was talking to me about writing a column for them. But Katherine Fanning, then the Monitor’s editor, flew down to Washington with Richard Nenneman, the managing editor, to persuade me to write a column for the Monitor. I needed little persuasion.

As a schoolboy in Britain, I witnessed the end of Nazi fascism in Europe; as a journalist, the waning of communism and the emerging conflict with Islamist extremism. A lot of misery is behind us, but wars and man’s inhumanity to man still abound. However, the most dramatic movement of our times is the march of freedom through Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and now the Arab world. 

Since 1908, national and international affairs have been chronicled, interpreted, and appraised by this remarkable newspaper launched by a remarkable woman, Mary Baker Eddy.

Founder of the Christian Science Church, she wrote that the Monitor’s purpose was “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” That does not mean seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. Where there is evil, the Monitor reports it. But the Monitor is intent on solutions and healing rather than despair.

Technology has transformed my profession of journalism. The printed newspaper is in eclipse and electronic delivery of news is instant and pervasive. The circulation of the daily print Monitor, once reaching more than 200,000 subscribers, has dwindled, and it is now a weekly magazine. But in March, the Monitor, with its website, CSMonitor.com, reached an audience of 10.3 million via the Internet.

We are swamped today with an avalanche of electronic and social media that can be positive or negative. Virtually anybody can get on the Internet chronicling truth or peddling fiction. The rush to immediacy can cause embarrassing mistakes. A famous football coach is declared dead before he is. A congresswoman is shot and declared dead when she is not. A popular governor is reported about to be indicted when she is not.

In the Atlantic magazine, author Nicholas Carr bemoaned his new addiction to the Net amusingly: “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”

We cannot overestimate the value of the Internet in triggering the assault on dictatorship that has, for example, encompassed the Arab world. Even a nation like China, that has sought to screen its population from the Web, is waging a fruitless campaign. International borders are porous in cyberspace.

The wise consumer of news on the Internet should rely on a trusted source that provides proven accuracy and thoughtful explanation and interpretation.

That is what the Monitor has been doing for more than 100 years.

John Hughes is a former editor of the Monitor.

This note from the Monitor's editor ran in the April 30 edition of the print Monitor Weekly:

The columns of John Hughes and Walter Rodgers have anchored the Commentary pages every other week since the Monitor Weekly was launched three years ago. As of this issue, we are saying goodbye to their scheduled contributions; instead, our editors will turn to them and a larger group of writers, depending on the expertise needed to tackle a particular topic. And talk about expertise!

Many of you knew Walt over the years as an intrepid correspondent for CNN, and before that ABC News and AP Radio. He was stationed in Berlin, Jerusalem, and Moscow, and covered conflicts from Sarajevo to Beirut to Tora Bora. As a columnist, Monitor readers know, he is not afraid to say what he thinks. His last regular column, for instance, takes a strong position against the belief that carrying firearms is a good idea.

And John Hughes? His is one of the most distinguished careers in journalism. A native of Wales, John was editor of the Monitor from 1970 to 1979, served as US assistant secretary of State and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his reporting on a coup in Indonesia and the government-backed killing of more than 200,000 people.

John also owned and ran a string of newspapers on Cape Cod before shifting to a diplomatic career. He ran the Voice of America, served as State Department spokesman, and chaired a presidential-congressional panel on broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China before becoming editor of The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He is now a professor of communications at Brigham Young University.

Like all journalists, Walt and John prize the front row seat to history that journalism gave them. As John puts it: “I can’t believe I got paid to travel the world, interview everyone from presidents to kings, good guys and bad guys. It’s a magical profession.”

Walt sees things this way: “Journalism has been the best time in the world. Where else could I have met every American president since JFK?”

Thank you, gentlemen. Monitor readers have been enriched by your experience, your deft touch as writers, and your interesting observations. We hope to continue hearing from you.

– John Yemma, Editor

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