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Our first century

A mandate to 'lighten' still drives the Monitor at the dawn of its second 100 years.

By David T. CookWashington Bureau Chief / November 25, 2008


One hundred years ago today, the first issue of The Christian Science Monitor thundered off presses in Boston's Back Bay.

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So began a remarkable chapter in American journalism: a newspaper published by a church, aimed at a general rather than a denominational audience, and promising coverage that was global in scope and constructive in character.

It is a story rich in courage, devotion, and experimentation. In its first century, the Monitor would win seven Pulitzer Prizes for news coverage and cartooning, see three of its correspondents taken captive while on assignment, start two magazines, multiple radio programs and a cable-TV news channel, cycle through 14 editors, and print stories from a diverse group of writers – including Winston Churchill and Ralph Nader. All of this was done to deliver to families and political leaders journalism that illuminated the world's challenges in an effort to help humanity.

The Monitor's launch was mission-driven rather than market-driven. In the summer of 1908, Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of the Christian Science religion, ordered the startled officials of her church to "start a daily newspaper at once." Just over 100 days later, a professional news organization was in operation.

Mrs. Eddy was an inveterate clipper of newspaper articles and had written for several papers. She also knew the ugly side of the press firsthand, having been savaged by a journalistic and legal attack mounted by Joseph Pulitzer's sensational New York World.

Once the World's assault ended, Mrs. Eddy's response was an ambitious effort to reform journalism by example.

Mrs. Eddy showed intense interest in many details surrounding the launch of her paper, weighing in on such details as newsprint quality and type style. But the 87-year-old founder's focus was on the values Monitor journalism was to express. In the lead editorial she wrote for the paper's 12-page first edition, Mrs. Eddy said the Monitor was "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind."

Journalism leavened with compassion and concern for all humanity – those are the standards that have guided generations of Monitor workers.

"One of the Monitor's great achievements has been to maintain a century-long reputation for fairness and balance when many other media organizations are accused of bias and lack of objectivity," says John Hughes, Monitor editor from 1970-79.

"The Monitor's singular achievement," says Paul Van Slambrouck, Monitor editor from 2001-05, "is that it has continued to cover the world as if it really matters. Although it has been challenged by the same forces that have downsized the industry as a whole, the Monitor has never shrunk its vision or grown parochial. Its founding mandate speaks of all mankind, and it seems to me that the Monitor has never wavered in its pursuit of that calling."

While there has been a steadfast effort by successive generations of Monitor workers to carry on the values Mrs. Eddy established, she did not want the Monitor to be a well-preserved historical artifact. She called for all her periodicals to be kept abreast of the times and was herself keenly interested in the latest technology.