NYU releases list of ’100 Outstanding Journalists’

Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
Ring the alarm bells, defenders of traditional journalism! New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute is marking a century of journalistic education with…a listicle?

Actually, defenders of traditional journalism have little to fear from the list of “The 100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years,” which will be officially announced at a reception tomorrow. It’s heavy on the kind of people who inspire teenage nerds to dream of a career in journalism: Ernie Pyle, Rachel Carson, H.L. Mencken.

The remaining 97 percent of the list, which is presented in alphabetical order, is a fun read, too. Walter Cronkite and George Polk are on it, and so are Christopher Hitchens, Bob Herbert and Weegee. Christiane Amanpour and Dexter Filkins make the cut; so do Ida B. Wells, Randy Shilts and Katharine Graham.

Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at NYU who led the project, says the list is intended as a conversation-starter. More than 300 nominations got trimmed down by a voting process involving faculty and a committee of alumni (maybe 2112 will be kinder to Arianna Huffington and Ezra Klein).

“Journalism is such a difficult-to-define endeavor that my experience has been to let people define it themselves,” Stephens says. The only real metric for whether someone got a nomination or not, he says, is that they had to have written about current events.

One thing the list’s authors better prepare for is a barrage of questions about why so much of its real estate belongs to white men. I counted 21 women and 8 African-Americans on the list (I counted three times, but let me know if I muffed that). Considering how long blacks were discriminated against, says Stephens, “I don’t think we did that terrible a job on that.” Women had to scale high cliffs to get into newsrooms over the last 100 years too, he says. And if the paucity of either “inspires a discussion,” he says, so much the better.

The list is quite focused on East Coast journalists, too, something Mitchell attributes to being “done by a journalism faculty in New York City” as well as New York’s long status as a national journalism center.

Stephens says his own list would have included Gene Roberts “for his amazing work with the Philadelphia Inquirer” but he’s generally happy with the way it turned out.

“Journalism,” he says, “has done such a bad job of owning its own history.” There is a “disconcerting number of people in newsrooms or blogging today who don’t know who Ernie Pyle is,” he says, or know James Baldwin’s reporting, or Ernest Hemingway’s. “One of the reasons we do this is just to alert people that there are fantastic writers and reporters out there who need to be read if you are thinking of entering journalism.”

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  • peter herford

    Disclosure: I am in the camp that says lists of best and worst and any other subjective value judgement are a waste of space and time. I acknowledge that readers seem to enjoy them; but journalists? I thought better of NYU. Given all of the problems journalism needs to ponder, this list is not only a distraction, it starts a storm of well-meaning debate about omissions. More space and time wasted, and before I waste more of your time:  may this story die quickly.

  • http://twitter.com/FlaFan FlaFan

    I generally agree with keeping the list mostly 20th century; it will take a while for the current crop to sort itself out, especially since it’s difficult to separate who is and isn’t a journalist these days.

    But I must disagree with the leaving out of a trio of magnificent sportswriters: Red Smith of the New York Times, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times and Shirley Povich of the Washington Post.

  • http://twitter.com/dennisjromero Dennis Romero

    Very East Coast-centric.

  • Anonymous

    Frank Rich belongs on the list

  • Denise Bridges

    I don’t know how you put such a list together — regardless of how few minorities — and not include Robert C. Maynard. That’s just totally ridiculous that you even missed him and as far as I’m concerned it invalidates your list. Even if you skip over the fact that he was The Washington Post’s first black national correspondent and later an associate editor, a Nieman fellow, and one of three journalists invited to question President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in their 1976 campaign debate (http://www.biography.com/people/robert-c-maynard-9403749), how could you possibly overlook his co-founding of the institute that now bears his name (www.maynardije.org/robertmaynard) and that for many years was almost solely responsibly for getting most journalists of color into American newsrooms? Aside from that, he was one of the first people to buy back a major newspaper (Oakland Tribune) from a chain (Gannett) in one of the early “leveraged buyouts” and that newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize under him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625690784 Michelle L. Quinn

    They’ll include HST and his frippery but not Matt Taibbi for his amazing coverage of the Banking crisis!?

  • Roque Planas

    As an NYU alum (MA 2011) I nominate Alma Guillermoprieto for her reporting on Latin America! 

  • Roque Planas

    As an NYU alum (MA 2011) I nominate Alma Guillermoprieto for her reporting on Latin America! 

  • Neal Pattison

    Really? So many activists and lifestyle writers … and no place for great, hard-nosed reporters like Ida Tarbell or Jessica Mitford? Was anyone over the age of 45 consulted?

  • http://twitter.com/crgonzalez Carmen Gonzalez

    Wow, no Latinos. What about Ruben Salazar and his reporting on the Chicano Movement and the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s? Come on now.

  • http://twitter.com/barryhollander Barry Hollander

    I agree, very East Coast-ish, but it’s hard to argue with almost any of the choices — solid to the point of being unsurprising.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Buddy-Baker/625754189 Buddy Baker

    Wow. Good choices, no doubt, but predictable. They could have put this list together while they were waiting for the bus.

  • Anonymous

    This list is proof of how East Coast-centric journalism judges often are. I count only a couple of reporters from publications in the Midwest. I don’t think I saw anyone from The L.A. Times. No Paul Salopek, a double Pulitzer winner at The Chicago Tribune. No Eric Nalder, two Pulitzers at The Seattle Times. No Tom Knudson, two Pulitzer, one in Des Moines, one in Sacramento. While we’re at it photographer Carol Guzy, an incredible four Pulitzers, but on the list. David Finkel and Anne Hull, of The Washington Post, amazing reporters, also not on the list. Of course, lists are made to be argued about, but this one just seems like a compilation, not of the best journalists, just the best known. Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.