Our first century

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

By , Washington Bureau Chief

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

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.

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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.

The Monitor embraced new distribution methods and was often found on the leading edge of technology. This included using jet planes and satellites to speed delivery of the paper. In 1920, the Monitor joined several other papers to work on developing worldwide news distribution by radio. Former editor Erwin D. Canham took to the airwaves in 1950 with "Starring the Editors," one of the first weekend news-talk programs on TV. And in 1995, the Monitor began posting stories on the Internet, becoming one of the first news organizations to do so.

There have been continual changes in the physical form of the paper (see accompanying timeline) as well as its design and content that reflected the distinct qualifications of the current editorial team and the unique times in which they operated. Last month, the Monitor announced it would be the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously.

While its launch in 1908 was greeted by other newspapers with profound skepticism, the Monitor eventually won respect from journalistic peers including those seven Pulitzers (a delicious irony given Mrs. Eddy's dealings with Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper). Three Monitor editors were elected by their professional peers as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors – Mr. Canham, Mr. Hughes, and Katherine W. Fanning, the first woman to hold the title.

From the beginning, the Monitor has been the very public face of the Christian Science Church, a connection that Mrs. Eddy was vehement it should not hide. The Christian Science Board of Directors appoints the Monitor editor and approves the Monitor's editorials. Before the inaugural edition was printed, the Monitor's first editor, Archibald McLellan, tried to persuade the founder to change the paper's name, fearing a negative impact on sales. "God gave me this name and it remains," was her response.

Despite forthrightly proclaiming its link to a sometimes-controversial church, the Monitor has earned its stripes in academic, political, and diplomatic circles. When it was not yet 10 years old, its second editor, Frederick Dixon, met frequently with President Woodrow Wilson. Monitor editors Roscoe Drummond and Canham were notable for their access to subsequent American presidents. And Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton, as well as five vice presidents and countless other government officials, were guests at Monitor-sponsored Washington newsmaker breakfasts Godfrey Sperling Jr. launched in 1966. Some 3,600 such gatherings have been held so far.

While in many ways a remarkable journalistic success, the paper has almost always required a subsidy from church coffers. This phenomenon caused considerable concern among top officials of the Monitor's parent organization. Given its cost and prominence, it is not surprising that the Monitor has twice been at the center of major battles within the Christian Science Church.

Controversy aside, the Monitor inspired fierce love and devotion from its workers. One sign: In 100 years, the Monitor has never missed a scheduled day of production, a remarkable feat in the newspaper industry, where protracted strikes are common.

The Monitor's achievements and reputation were built by hundreds of unsung individuals. Some were editorial workers. Some labored with equal dedication on the production and publishing staffs. Staff members' families made sacrifices, too. One Monitor wife said she viewed the difference between her husband's very modest salary and what he could have made elsewhere as "our gift to the Monitor."

The following recounting of notable moments in the Monitor's history only hints at the love and loyalty that Monitor staff – and their families – brought to the work.

1900-1910

Archibald McLellan's influence in setting the Monitor's course was second only to that of Mrs. Eddy. He was already running the church's weekly and monthly religious magazines and serving as a director of the church when Mrs. Eddy named him to oversee the Monitor's launch. The Monitor's first editor was a lawyer and a seasoned businessman who had not previously worked as a journalist. But he brought a genial disposition, strong business and organizational skills, an insatiable appetite for work, and Mrs. Eddy's complete confidence.

Since he was Mrs. Eddy's closest collaborator in the Monitor's founding, his view of the Monitor's mission carries special weight. "It will be the mission of the Monitor," McLellan wrote, "to publish the real news of the world in a clean, wholesome manner, devoid of the sensational methods employed by so many newspaper." The goal was a Monitor "which will appeal to good men and women everywhere who are interested in the betterment of all human conditions and the moral and spiritual advancement of the race," he said

McLellan and a young, high spirited managing editor named Alexander Dodds led the Monitor from its launch in 1908, through Mrs. Eddy's passing in 1910, and until 1914, when circulation was about 60,000.

1910-1920

As World War I loomed in Europe, church directors named Frederick Dixon, a well-connected London journalist, to lead the paper through turbulent times. He ended up creating some turbulence himself.

No newspaper editor of the time had "more extensive, continuous, and intimate contact with leading world statesmen," Canham wrote. An experienced international reporter himself, Dixon spearheaded the development of a Monitor corps of foreign correspondents and gave the paper a scholarly and literary tone. Circulation grew to 123,000.

But Dixon also helped place the Monitor at the center of a battle within the Christian Science Church. He sided with the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society in a dispute with the Christian Science Board of Directors over ownership and control of the Publishing Society, the organization that operates the Monitor. In March 1919, the trustees sued the board in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court placed the Monitor and the rest of the Publishing Society in the hands of the trustees until the conclusion of the case.

The sad episode brought the paper to the edge of collapse. Christian Scientists stopped subscribing, since they viewed the publisher as disloyal to the church's governing documents. The Court decided in favor of the board of directors in November 1921 and Dixon resigned as editor in January 1922 when control of the paper returned to the board.

1920-1930

The assignment to rebuild the Monitor went to Willis Abbot, a highly experienced newspaperman who had worked at Hearst-owned papers in Washington, Chicago, and New York.

A co-worker said the distinguished-looking Abbot, who sported a white mustache and goatee, was "one of the most genial, lovable, and interesting of men and the paper reflected his warm qualities." In addition to his editing duties, Abbot traveled widely and contributed to the paper's coverage. Under his leadership the paper recovered, with circulation hitting 129,000 at the end of his term in 1927, when leadership of the paper passed for a time to an editorial committee.

Abbot was a trail-blazer in the treatment of women at the Monitor. While Monitor executives treated the paper's female founder with reverence, her paper was not a woman-friendly zone for many years. But in 1922, Abbot named Cora Rigby as the paper's Washington bureau chief, making her the first woman to hold such a role at a major paper. She had the experience for the job since she came to the Monitor after 15 years on the New York Herald.

In October 1919, Ms. Rigby and five other women met in her Monitor office to organize the Women's National Press Club. The club got a boost when Eleanor Roosevelt joined and began hosting women-only press conferences.

Rigby was one of the first in a line of pioneering and courageous women journalists at the Monitor that included World War II correspondent Mary Hornaday; Charlotte Saikowski, who served in Moscow, Tokyo, Washington, and as chief editorial writer; and Elizabeth Pond, who covered the Vietnam War and later was Bonn bureau chief.

1930-1940

As the US economic depression deepened, the Monitor gave President Herbert Hoover "unswerving support," as Canham put it, in the 1932 election. One reason: Franklin D. Roosevelt favored repeal of Prohibition and Christian Scientists are generally teetotalers.

The tough economic climate did not prevent the Church from building a handsome new home for the Monitor and its sister periodicals. The nine-story Publishing House was completed in 1934 and its second floor has served as the Monitor's newsroom ever since.

The Depression's negative effects on circulation and advertising revenue triggered an internal study of the Monitor's purposes and performance. As a result, Boston editions were strengthened, editorial taboos were eliminated, and a weekly magazine, produced using a high-quality color printing process, was launched. This editorial strengthening took place under the editorship of Roscoe Drummond, who was named to the job in 1934. He later wrote a widely syndicated Washington column. His close friend Canham called Mr. Drummond a "journalistic genius."

1940-1950

The massive human drama of World War II called forth the best from the Monitor. The Monitor's wartime coverage was marshaled by Canham, who was named the Monitor's top editorial executive in 1939 when Drummond moved to Washington as bureau chief. Canham, a Bates College graduate and Rhodes scholar, would lead the Monitor for the next 25 years – longer than anyone before or since. He was greatly respected in the world of journalism and became highly visible through his broadcast appearances and various public-service activities.

Monitor war correspondents including Gordon Walker, Ronald Stead, Mallory Brown, and Edmund Stevens were in harm's way on 25 major campaigns. They participated in more than 20 invasions, visited 53 bases, and, as a Monitor story noted, had "ridden in and on almost all the types of craft known to man."

Their award-winning coverage was planned and polished by international news editor Charles Gratke, who was killed on assignment in 1949 when his plane crashed in India. Beloved by his far-flung staff, he would leave the newsroom when greeting correspondents, to hide the emotion of the reunion from others. Canham called his loss, "a sad and severe blow."

One sign of the quality of the Monitor coverage during that period was the 1950 Pulitzer Prize awarded to Edmund Stevens for his scathing series on life inside the Soviet Union. "This is Russia – Uncensored" was based on his three years' worth of reporting.

1950-1960

The Monitor celebrated its 50th anniversary in what Susan Bridge's book "Monitoring the News" calls a "quietly triumphal style." The 1958 festivities included printing a massive full-color anniversary edition. That was complemented by publication of Canham's book "Commitment to Freedom" and the production of a color movie, "Assignment: Mankind."

In 1959, Canham took the unusual step of agreeing to serve simultaneously as Monitor editor and as president of the US Chamber of Commerce. Canham "used his stature and respect to enhance the Monitor's standing in the US and the world," said Hughes. One example: a 1954 photograph shot for McCall's magazine shows Sen. John Kennedy lounging outdoors in a chair wearing a T-shirt reading the Monitor with his wife, Jacqueline, standing over him reading along.

1960-1970

In 1964, the unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Canham (who stayed on as editor-in-chief) went to DeWitt John, at a time when the business climate for newspapers had grown markedly more difficult. Mr. John had worked as a Monitor reporter and staff editor, but had spent most of his career in the church's public affairs office.

With a highly logical mind and deft editing skills, John set about building what other news organizations called "the new Monitor." He boosted staff salaries, started a training program for young reporters, added news bureaus, and launched features aimed at helping the paper compete in a society where television had become the dominant news source.

The results made Monitor history: Pulitzer Prizes three years in a row. In 1967, Hughes won a Pulitzer for his reporting of an attempted Communist coup in Indonesia. In 1968, Howard James won for his series "Crisis in the Courts." The following year, environmental reporter Robert Cahn took the prize for his inquiry into the future of the national parks.

From 1964 on, the Monitor provided intensive coverage of the growing US involvement in Vietnam with courageous, on-the-scene dispatches from staff members Takashi Oka, John Dillin, Daniel Southerland, and Elizabeth Pond.

1970-1980

The Monitor was buffeted by the Vietnam War and business losses during the 1970s.

Monitor correspondent Pond and two other journalists were taken prisoner by Communist forces in Cambodia on May 7, 1970. The trio had driven from Saigon to observe US and South Vietnamese operations on the main route from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Ms. Pond and her colleagues were released after more than five weeks of captivity.

As the war raged, a veteran foreign correspondent moved into the editor's office in October 1970. Hughes had been awarded a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, had won that 1967 Pulitzer, and shortly before being named editor won the Overseas Press Club award for best reporting from abroad.

On June 29, 1971, the Monitor followed the New York Times and the Washington Post in printing portions of the Pentagon Papers, a hitherto top-secret study of US policy in Vietnam commissioned by the Pentagon. Asked by the US Justice Department not to publish, Hughes said he "declined to accede" to the request. In an editorial the Monitor explained, "The proper role of a responsible press is to do its best at all times to tell those things which the public should know but governments would prefer to withhold."

Two major cost-saving changes in the Monitor occurred in the face of rising expenses. In October 1973 the Saturday edition was discontinued, and in April 1975 the paper moved from a broadsheet to a compact format. (Staffers were told not to use the word "tabloid.")

On the brighter side, in 1978 Richard L. Strout won the Pulitzer Prize "for distinguished commentary from Washington over many years as staff correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and contributor to The New Republic." Two generations of Monitor writers sought to emulate his acute observations and pungent style. "Dick Strout was our journalism school," wrote Earl W. Foell, who succeeded Hughes as editor in 1979.

1980-1990

The 1980s were a decade of experimentation and controversy at the Monitor.

Ms. Fanning was named editor in 1983, the first woman to lead the Monitor. Fanning previously had guided a paper she owned in Alaska to a Pulitzer Prize for a fearless examination of the Teamsters. In Boston, she was teamed with Publishing Society manager John H. Hoagland Jr., a Yale-educated business consultant and devoted Christian Scientist. Mr. Hoagland was tasked with finding a way to cure the Monitor's persistent deficits and expand its modest print audience in an era when TV was the dominant news delivery vehicle.

Millions of dollars were invested in the newspaper. Even more went into building a Monitor presence in radio and television. Weekend Monitor Radio broadcasts began in 1984, followed by a daily afternoon news program in 1985. An early morning Monitor radio program went on the air in 1989. The radio broadcasts eventually drew an audience of 1.1 million listeners a week on more than 200 public radio stations.

The Monitor's television experiments began in 1985 with a monthly 30-minute program on commercial TV stations called "Christian Science Monitor Reports." A weekly broadcast was launched in 1987 and in 1988 it won a George Foster Peabody award, the broadcast equivalent of a Pulitzer, for an examination of "Islam in Turmoil."

The decade's most expensive venture was "World Monitor" a nightly half-hour TV program with an annual budget in the $20-million range that aired on cable's Discovery Channel. The New York Times's review of the première said, "The sheer integrity of 'World Monitor' is invigorating." The program later won an Emmy for its international news coverage.

To expand the Monitor's presence in the world of print, a glossy monthly magazine was launched in October 1988. Also called World Monitor, it was edited by Mr. Foell, who was on a first-name basis with the world's movers and shakers. He could dash off witty memos with references to everyone from Agamemnon to Ataturk, and had uncanny news judgment. In the magazine's first issue, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford predicted the Berlin Wall would come down 13 months before it did so.

Meanwhile, disputes raged over proposed major reductions in the newspaper's staff and budget, and a media strategy dominated by broadcasting. Fanning resigned as editor in November 1988 at the end of what she said was a three-year dispute with the members of the board of trustees and board of directors over the Monitor's direction. Managing editor David Anable and assistant managing editor David Winder also resigned. In a Boston Globe interview, the three said they left rather than go along with a plan that would cut the Monitor's pages in half, eliminate all advertising, and have the editor report to the manager of the Christian Science Publishing Society rather than to members of the board of directors as was longstanding practice. The departures shocked the Monitor staff and triggered increased press scrutiny of the Publishing Society's broadcast-centric strategy.

No Monitor editor has ever assumed the office under more challenging conditions than Fanning's successor, Richard Cattani, who had been the paper's chief editorial writer. Mr. Cattani and crew began producing a smaller, four-color paper in January 1989, using cutting edge desktop-publishing equipment. "The most important achievement of the Cattani/Walker administration," says former deputy editor Ruth Walker, "was to keep the paper going at a time when its survival was very much in doubt."

1990-2000

The 1990s were marked by a retreat from broadcasting and exploration of the potential for using the Internet to share the Monitor's unique journalism values with a wider audience.

The Monitor's foray into broadcasting culminated with the May 1991 launch of the Monitor Channel – a 24-hour-a-day cable news operation. But the church's media ambitions outstripped its financial resources. That proved true even after publication of a controversial biography of Mary Baker Eddy triggered a major bequest – and considerable protest by church members. The channel went dark in June 1992.

A much brighter moment in Monitor history occurred on June 24, 1990, when Nelson Mandela was on his first visit to the US after being released from 27 years in prison in South Africa. Mr. Mandela asked his security detail to bring him to the Monitor's headquarters. When Mandela was spotted walking on the plaza outside the newsroom, editor Cattani and several other staff members went out to greet him. Mandela said, "The Christian Science Monitor was well known to me during my 27 years in prison. It continues to give me hope and confidence for the world's future."

In May 1993, World Monitor magazine closed due to insufficient revenues.

David Cook became editor in 1994 with marching orders to ease some of the austerity of the Cattani years.

In 1995, Monitor correspondent David Rohde was held captive for nine days in a Bosnian Serb jail. He was captured while uncovering the suspected mass graves of thousands of Muslims killed in Srebrenica, reporting that won another Pulitzer Prize, the Monitor's sixth.

A desire to share Mr. Rohde's compelling reporting led the Monitor to post his stories on a rudimentary Monitor site on the Internet. The effort was spearheaded by Monitor Radio staffers David Creagh and Tom Regan. A fully developed Monitor website went up in June 1996.

An eventful chapter at the Monitor ended on June 27, 1997, when the Monitor's radio-broadcasting arm closed after 13 years of providing in-depth news and analysis to listeners around the globe. Outside the US, Monitor Radio was heard in Europe, Asia, and Africa over the two shortwave stations owned by the Church of Christ, Scientist. Both stations were later sold.

2000-2008

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dominated Paul Van Slambrouck's term as editor, which began in July 2001.

"Big news events often act as a magnifying glass, bringing the talents, experience, and philosophy of a news organization into razor-sharp focus for one instant," Mr. Van Slambrouck says. "The paper seemed to naturally coalesce around the central questions of the day, which were spelled out in a steady stream of reports, perhaps most notably in a report titled, 'Why Do They Hate Us?' Amid a sea of news coverage, what the Monitor did stood out and was noticed. Ninety-plus years of news gathering, plus a tradition of looking for the root causes of events, had come to bear at a moment when it mattered most."

Monitor cartoonist Clay Bennett would add a seventh Pulitzer in 2002.

Richard Bergenheim, who served as editor from 2005 to July 2008, was a relentless evangelist for digital content and delivery as the Monitor's future. This Web-first focus was on view in an opinion piece he wrote his first month on the job, calling the 1 million to 2 million readers who visited csmonitor.com each month at that time "probably the most significant development in the history of the Monitor."

The Monitor itself became a major news story in 2006 when Jill Carroll was captured and held hostage while covering the war in Iraq. She was released after 82 days. During the ambush when correspondent Carroll was captured, her translator, Allan Enwiya, was killed while trying to ward off Jill's kidnappers. Carroll's saga, and Enwiyah's murder, drew worldwide attention. Covering the tragedy while mounting an unrelenting effort to secure her release tested the Monitor's modest-sized staff as no other story has.

Under current editor John Yemma, the Monitor now prepares for a future where its daily coverage will be on the Web. What will not change is the commitment to values that caused Mrs. Eddy to say the day of the Monitor's launch was "the lightest of all days. This is the day when our daily paper goes forth to lighten mankind."

The mandate to lighten – to shed light upon, to relieve cares or woes – sets forth a standard unique in the world of journalism, a standard to which the Monitor remains committed.

"The Monitor's greatest achievement over many decades has been to leaven both journalism and world thought with ideals radically purer than its competitors'. The vision was to go far beyond simply making a profit out of news coverage," says Mr. Anable. "When the Monitor has hewed to its founding ideals of tough spiritual insight and unselfish love of all mankind, the Monitor has been a force for good both in the press and in the world. That is its proud heritage."

r Washington bureau chief David T. Cook was editor of the Monitor from 1994 to 2001. Prior to that he was editor of Monitor Broadcasting. Under his leadership, the Monitor underwent a major redesign, created daily special-interest sections, won a Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting, and launched its website, CSMonitor.com.

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