A change at the Monitor Breakfast table

On Nov. 30, David Cook hosted his final breakfast. It was a milestone for the Monitor and for the Breakfast. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Every so often, I like to use this column to pull back the curtain a bit on what’s going on at the Monitor. The Monitor isn’t a stock that you simply invest in as shareholders. You, as readers, are the expression of the Monitor’s action. You’re a part of the team. 

This week, I wanted to pass along news about the Monitor Breakfast, which has grown into one of the Monitor’s most beloved activities. The Monitor has been holding on-the-record breakfasts for newsmakers and the media in Washington, D.C., since 1966, when Godfrey “Budge” Sperling Jr. started the tradition. We’re now nearing our 4,000th breakfast. In all that time we’ve had only two hosts. Former editor David Cook took over from Mr. Sperling in 2001 and has conducted 672 Breakfasts on his watch. 

On Nov. 30, Mr. Cook hosted his final breakfast. It was a milestone for the Monitor and for the Breakfast. 

The Monitor’s claim to doing a different kind of journalism is built on employing a different kind of journalist. Among the most conspicuous qualities of a Monitor journalist are humility, grace, and kindness. Rigorously maintained, they create a news publication that, in the words of former Monitor editor Erwin Canham, “is to professionals a kind of daily astonishment.” 

It would be difficult to point to a member of the Monitor staff who has more genuinely expressed these qualities than David Cook. As Washington has become more polarized, more obsessed by the Twitter-fication of political discourse, and less genial, Cook has maintained the Breakfast as a haven against these trends. 

“Dave’s hosting of Monitor Breakfasts, to me, encapsulated the spirit of Monitor journalism,” says the Monitor’s economy editor, Mark Trumbull. “Even before Dave, the Breakfast tradition represented a search for humanity and understanding in a city of power-player sound bites. He set a tone with humor and grace, and with questions that were respectful yet penetrating. The result was news, but perhaps also an impetus for progress – including even a nudge for the newsmakers to find the best in themselves and their offices.”

That impetus is as needed now as it ever has been and with Cook’s retirement will be carried on by Washington bureau chief Linda Feldmann. 

As a writer, Ms. Feldmann has dedicated herself to giving readers a fairer view of Washington – seeing a Washington of substance and principle behind the froth. She’ll bring that same commitment to the Breakfasts in addition to her continued role as a writer. 

This is also a great time to pull the curtain back on the Breakfasts a bit and help you feel like a part of the team here, too. We invited three Monitor subscribers to the Nov. 30 Breakfast and are looking for new ways to make the Breakfast more inclusive for readers, so stay tuned. We’ve had an excellent roster of guests recently – including Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, a pivotal figure in the tax debate – and we expect that to continue as evidence that the Breakfast’s model of thoughtful and respectful conversation is wanted and needed in Washington and beyond.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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