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Inside the Monitor, a culture of camaraderie – and a shared mission

Staff parties, shibboleths, and a dedication to being a 'real newspaper.'

By Roderick Nordell / November 25, 2008

Lineup: Staff from the Monitor's newsroom and composing room formed a baseball team soon after the paper's founding (shown: 1931).

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Way back, long before there were Google-driven page views to be concerned about, there was the legend of the "passed-on mules."

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For decades you could get a laugh in the newsroom by mentioning the World War I battlefield littered with them. The phrase often appeared in articles about The Christian Science Monitor and its preference for saying that people "passed on" as more precise than "died."

The mules were traced to a piece from behind German lines about a battlefield littered with "passed-on horses." This was sent from one delighted staffer to another – but never considered for publication.

What was being considered was how to be a "real newspaper," as intended, while being published by a church. By the time Franklin Roosevelt passed on in 1945, quotations were published about his "death." Soon the paper carried stories about others who had "died."

This is just one way in which the Monitor – enigmatic to the mass market, often subject to what publishing types call "brand resistance" – has tried to look like a real paper as well as be one. It has always reported the bitter and the sweet of human existence. It has always stressed efforts, great and small, to make things better for humanity and its planet. Those who put it together try to express its founding religion by publishing an excellent paper, reserving space for just one article on Christian Science each day. The goal is genuine accuracy.

"We believe that the balancing fact should be attached directly to the misleading assertion," said Erwin D. Canham when he was editor 50 years ago. "News interpretation, with all its hazards, is often safer and wiser than printing the bare news alone. Nothing can be more misleading than the unrelated fact, just because it is a fact and hence impressive."

To help everyone get the point, there were the sandwich sessions where thoughts on the paper could be shared. In 1968 came the in-house publication called The Editing Corner: A periodic commentary on Monitor content. One included a "Tip to makeup editors: Boxes placed down among the ads are lost. If placed higher on the page, they break up gray type and enliven the page."

Beyond such professional minutiae, Monitor workers sought to keep the paper in line with statements its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, had given earlier in answer to questions from other newspapers: "To my sense, the most imminent dangers confronting the coming century are: the robbing of people of life and liberty under the warrant of the Scriptures; the claims of politics and of human power, industrial slavery, and insufficient freedom of honest competition; and ritual, creed, and trusts in place of the golden rule, 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'" And: "I am asked, 'What are your politics?' I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself."

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