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."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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