What makes The Monitor tick?

A new book by Keith Collins examines more than a century of Monitor journalism and asks whether it is living up to its purpose.

For more than a century, the Monitor has chronicled humanity’s journey. We do not flinch from writing about wars, repression, and corruption. But we also make a point of watching for progress.

Why do we see that as the Monitor’s mission? Keith Collins, a former Monitor staffer, has written a well-researched history of this newspaper that examines that question. The story he tells is valuable if you are a journalism buff, a Monitor fan, a Christian Scientist, or a person of any faith (or none) who wonders what drives this 104-year-old enterprise – which carries the name of a religious denomination but is widely accepted as a nondenominational source of thoughtful, accurate, world news.

Not every part of Mr. Collins’s book, “The Christian Science Monitor: Its History, Mission, and People,” will make everyone happy. As in any history, some facts and conclusions are arguable. I found this to be so in a section dealing with the internal tensions that led to the resignation of Kay Fanning as editor in 1988 and the subsequent rise and fall of an ambitious broadcasting venture. 

Collins distills the central question facing the Monitor as this: Did Mary Baker Eddy found the Monitor as “mainly a good, public-spirited newspaper that represented a more constructive approach to journalism?” Or was it “not designed to make people comfortable so much as to upgrade how they thought, helping them become less fearful and selfish, more perceptive and generous?” He notes that throughout the Monitor’s history, its editors, reporters, governing boards, subscribers, and members of the church have sincerely stood on both sides of that question. But why should it be either/or? Why not both/and? Public-spirited journalism and the decreasing of fear and selfishness are not mutually exclusive.

In any endeavor – from government to business, family to church – people disagree. But if motives are honest and noble, they have a divine source, which allows us to respect and value each other’s best efforts.

Many readers will value and respect Collins’s work. And who can argue with his conclusion – that the Monitor is not living up to its full potential? Like humanity itself, the Monitor can always do better. 

John Yemma is editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

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