Downie, Leonard, Jr. 1942-
DOWNIE, Leonard, Jr. 1942-
PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1942, in Cleveland, OH; son of Leonard (a sales executive) and Pearl Martha (Evenheimer) Downie; married Barbara Lindsey, July 15, 1960 (divorced, 1971); married Geraldine Rebach (a nurse), August 15, 1971 (divorced, 1997); married Janice Galin, September 2, 1997; children: (first marriage) David Leonard, Scott Leonard; (second marriage) Joshua Mark, Sarah Elizabeth. Education: Ohio State University, B.A., 1964, M.A., 1965.
ADDRESSES: Office—Washington Post Co., 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071-0002.
CAREER: Journalist and editor. Washington Post, Washington, DC, reporter, 1965–70, day city editor, 1970–71, deputy metropolitan editor, 1972–79, London correspondent, 1979–82, national editor, 1982–84, managing editor, 1984–91, executive editor, 1991–. Member of board of directors, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, International Herald Tribune. American University, instructor in communications, 1972–73. Trustee, Georgetown Day School, 1988–93.
MEMBER: American Society of Newspaper Editors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Front Page Award for news writing, 1967, 1968; American Bar Association gavel award, 1967; John Hancock Insurance Company Award, 1969; Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship, 1971–72; LL.D., Ohio State University, 1993; Goldsmith Award, Joan Shorenstein Center, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2003, for The News about the News.
Justice Denied: The Case for Reform of the Courts, Praeger (New York, NY), 1971.
Mortgage on America, Praeger (New York, NY), 1974.
The New Muckrakers, New Republic Books (Washington, DC), 1976.
(With Robert G. Kaiser) The News about the News: American Journalism in Peril, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to Ten Blocks from the White House, edited by Ben W. Gilbert Praeger, 1968. Also contributor to periodicals, including Nation, Potomac, and Washington Monthly.
SIDELIGHTS: Leonard Downie, Jr.'s The New Muckrakers, a series of profiles of contemporary investigative reporters, was hailed by Richard Reeves in the New York Times Book Review as "the best book I have ever read on the subject. It is not an exciting book. It is not particularly well-written or well-organized. But Downie … knows what he's talking about and he gets his points across, including some non-mythical analysis of the work of the Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein…. Investigative reporters are different, a point Downie makes in the first 40 pages, his best pages…. The New Muckrakers also goes out of its way to give credit to some older muckrakers, the people who kept the sport alive between the glamorous peaks." Admitting that "muck-raking does seem to run in cycles," Reeves noted that "it is possible that it is not quite as influential as Downie sometimes tends to make it. My own experience indicated that no matter where you went, someone else had been there 10 years before and a couple of people had lost their jobs or gone to jail. But the real villain, institutional oppression routinely ignored by the press, reverts to type when the spotlights turn away."
After The New Muckrakers Downie did not release another book until 2002's The News about the News: American Journalism in Peril, which he wrote with Robert G. Kaiser. Here, the authors present "a stark and honest assessment of the current news business," according to Seth Effron in Nieman Reports. "It is an important and thoughtful examination of the roles journalists and journalism play in Americans' lives and in their democracy. After reading it, anyone thinking of working as a journalist in the twenty-first century will have a clearer understanding—and warning—about what to expect." Journalism, the authors state, has long had a pivotal role in the social and political arena of modern life. Newspapers kept people informed of important issues in all areas of society, from finance to social services to the behavior of politicians and lawmakers. Journalists could write in depth about critical elements of public safety, local and national policymaking, business and financial areas, legal and regulatory developments, and much more. In recent years, however, they see journalism as being severely affected by the concentration of ownership and the pursuit of profit over quality.
The authors are unflinching in their assessment of the cause of journalism's modern-day deterioration. Consolidation and mergers have created fewer and fewer news organizations—in effect, diluting competition—for which newsgathering and the social mission of newspapers is secondary to business concerns. More importantly, the pursuit of profit has become the primary concern of newspapers, Downie and Kaiser state, resulting in an atmosphere that avoids hard news and tough investigations in favor of lighter, more entertaining, and sometimes outright sensationalistic material that is more enticing to buyers, subscribers, and advertisers." The pursuit of profit is at the root of journalism's decline, Downie and Kaiser declare," commented E.W. Brody in the Newspaper Research Journal. "Print and electronic newsrooms have been decimated by corporate executives dedicated to maintaining profit at any cost. The result has been unprecedented deterioration in media audiences." William Murchison, writing in Insight on the News, observed that "headlines and bottom lines seem linked inextricably."
But "what is remarkable about the case they make is how solid and reportorial it is," observed James M. Naughton in the American Journalism Review. "This is not a polemic, not another broadside about greedy investors and indifferent corporations. The authors detail instances where quality news made a difference." Among these instances are reports of the inequities among death sentences in Illinois; reports of increased fatalities associated with defective Firestone tires; and various accounts of the abuse of power in government, business, and police work. Coverage of important, if sometimes mundane, topics in education, housing, public safety, transportation, government services, and other areas affect individuals and communities in profound ways, the authors report, saving money, careers, and frequently, lives. Those who do not traditionally have a voice—the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, the mentally ill, the disabled—are represented by the efforts of journalists and newspapers who expose injustice and abuse. In short, they conclude, a robust source of news is crucial to the safe and effective functioning of the communities that newspapers, radio, and television stations serve. For news to continue to matter, news organizations must return to quality reporting and genuine civic service while diminishing reliance on excessive profit margins in favor of solid journalism. Despite those who may believe otherwise, the authors provide ample documentation of how "topnotch news operations can also be good for the company's bottom line," Effron reported.
"This is an important, up-to-date study that should be required reading for journalism students and serious consumers of the news," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Library Journal contributor July Solberg called it an "accessible, elegant, and most importantly, persuasive account," while Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush noted it is "an insightful and penetrating look at how journalism has changed for the better and worse and how principled—and not-so-principled—journalists are responding." The authors "write from a deep love of their profession," concluded Eric Bates in Mother Jones, "and from a genuine outrage at the way its values are being eroded by corporate greed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journalism Review, December, 1995, Alicia C. Shepard, "Defending the Family," interview with Leonard Downie, Jr., p. 38; April, 2002, James M. Naughton, "No Good News about the News," review of The News about the News: American Journalism in Peril, p. 63.
Booklist, March 1, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of The News about the News, p. 1067.
Insight on the News, April 29, 2002, William Murchison, "A Journalistic Revival," review of The News about the News, p. 27.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Daniel J. Levinson, review of The News about the News, p. 42.
Library Journal, May 1, 2002, Judy Solberg, review of The News about the News, p. 114.
Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2002, David Shaw, review of The News about the News, p. R13.
Mother Jones, January-February, 2002, Eric Bates, review of The News about the News, p. 73.
Nation, April 1, 1996, Jay Rosen, "In the Booth with the Press," profile of Leonard Downie, Jr., p. 10.
Newspaper Research Journal, spring-summer, 2002, E. W. Brody, review of The News about the News, p. 153.
New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1976, Richard Reeves, review of The New Muckrakers; March 10, 2002, Michael Janeway, "Entertainment Tonight: Two Editors Look at What Drives American Journalism Today and Find It Is Not the News," review of The News about the News, p. 12.
Nieman Reports, winter, 2002, Seth Effron, "A Rigorous Look at the Work of Newsrooms Today: In This Era of Bottom-Line Journalism, the Authors Document How Quality in News Reporting Can Triumph," review of The News about the News, p. 93.
PR Week, July 28, 2003, "The Bad News about Current US Media," review of The News about the News, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of The News about the News, p. 86.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 3, 2002, Harry Levins, "This Just in from Nitwitness News," review of The News about the News, p. F11.
Time, August 13, 1990, Nancy Traver, "Shifting to a Post-Bradlee Post; A Cautious Top Man Emerges at the Washington Post," profile of Leonard Downie, Jr., p. 59.
Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 2002, Jonathan Mirsky, "Mist in the Mirror," review of The News about the News, p. 27.
Washington Post Online, http://www.washpost.com/ (September 17, 2005), brief biography of Leonard Downie, Jr.