Opinion

Ralph Nader fondly recalls his days at the Monitor

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I received the news about the end of the printed Christian Science Monitor daily with a special sadness – beyond being deprived of the excellent nonprofit physical newspaper. For it was the Monitor that helped launch my freelance writing career as a young graduate of Harvard Law School.

In the early '60s, I found that the Monitor was receptive to submissions by unknown freelance writers who met its journalistic standards. Wishing to see the world and put my language skills to the test, I traveled to South America, the Soviet Union, countries in Asia, and Africa sending regular dispatches along the way. To my surprise my articles were accorded a high acceptance rate.

The $75 the Monitor paid me per article were quickly applied to hostel, bus, and airline expenses. I wrote for the business page, edited by David Francis, and the foreign affairs and tourist sections.

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Because I would often drop by Christian Science Reading Rooms in the Boston area during my law school years, I was quite familiar with the kind of unique reporting favored by the various editors.

It always intrigued me that such a modest number of Christian Scientists around the country created and supported a newspaper that overcame the skepticism of the mainstream media and earned the respect of their larger peers. This was especially the case in the hardened media environment of Washington. Then, as now, members of the media flock to the enduring Monitor breakfasts with noted political and other public figures.

What impresses me is the Monitor's authentic search for the real stories, not the conventional stereotypes that countries and regions were given by the big-time media.

For example, I recall when major news media began to hype the northeastern Brazilian peasant leader Francisco Juliao as the next Fidel Castro. The heavily populated, desperately poor region around Recife was seen as explosive territory for a revolutionary Marxist-Soviet upheaval. But the situation, as I wrote in my dispatches, was quite different. It was more nuanced and solicited more pathos for its passive impoverishment than the alarmist, exaggerated reports that readers of the big commercial mass media were receiving.

Later, as I proposed my writings to other outlets, there was little doubt that the receptivity of other newspapers and magazines was enhanced by my portfolio of articles written for the prestigious Christian Science Monitor. Such is its integrity and professionalism.

Someday, when enough people tire of the novelty of spending endless hours squinting at ever-smaller screens to catch up with current events, readers may return to printed newspapers (using recycled paper) for their many tangible and intangible advantages.

I'll always remember the Monitor as a liberator, a polite agitator, an open-minded newspaper that gave voice to many writers in many places around the world. It is only a small stretch to describe this newspaper as an early successful experiment in "open-source" journalism – long before the Internet and Linux.

All of the editors and reporters who worked and stayed with the newspaper through increasingly constrained budgetary times will have the online world to explore as the Monitor embarks on a new century. But forgive me when I say that "it's just not the same."

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, author, and founder of public-interest groups. He was an independent candidate for president in 2008.

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