Newspaper Research Journal took root in 1979, the brainchild of Dr. Gerald C. Stone. The original impetus to initiate a journal centered on newspaper research arose a year earlier at the 1978 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, at which Stone, along with his cohorts in the Newspaper Division, discussed an industry guru's scathing report about the state of journalism education. The industry personality had taken some cheap shots but had also backed up his assertions with quantitative measures. As a response to the harsh attack, Stone, along with incoming Newspaper Division head, Dr. Elden Rawlings, began work on NRJ.
Rawlings was instrumental in the fledgling stages. He was a staunch supporter of NRJ, and he never hesitated to champion its cause to whoever would listen. In fact, Rawlings was so dedicated to the journal, that he convinced the Newspaper Division’s board to commit three-fourths of its treasury ($2,000) to the project.
“He went way out on a limb by committing resources, substantial resources, to seeing the journal produce its first edition,” Stone said. “I don’t think anybody at the time was talking about such a substantial amount of the treasury. When we began to realize that was what we were talking about here, (Rawlings) could’ve pulled the plug, or he could’ve pulled the plug after the first one and said, ‘That was nice, but it’s too expensive.’ But instead he said, ‘No, let’s keep doing it.’”
So Stone was charged with the unenviable task of helping a freshman journal gain momentum. At the time, Stone was a professor at California State University, Long Beach, and it was there in the spring of 1979 that he completed the journal’s prototype edition, “a rag-tag 72-page booklet with nine research articles and multiple typos – my pride and joy.”
Along the way, Stone encountered several problems. “Every edition was a miracle,” he said. Early in the run, Stone had to cajole and implore the discount typesetter to finish the journal. Stone had moved to what was then Memphis State University in 1979, and he brought the journal with him. In 1981, NRJ ran out of money, and the printer held boxes of books on its loading dock until the bill was paid.
In 1982, NRJ ran out of articles, but Max McCombs provided the journal with already reviewed articles.
In 1985, Stone bought a Macintosh computer and laser printer and began to produce the journal via desktop with the earliest version of PageMaker. “NRJ became one of the first academic journals to be done entirely by desktop publishing,” he said.
During the mid-1980s, Stone began to feel more comfortable editing the journal. “I would say probably after the first four years, half way through my time with it, it became a more doable job,” he said. “We didn’t go from edition to edition to edition worrying about paying the printer or getting it out on time.”
In 1988, Stone retired as NRJ editor. He turned over the reins to Dr. Ralph Izard, then of Ohio University. Izard was editor of the journal for 11 years, eventually giving up the editorship in 2000 to Drs. Sandra H. Utt and Elinor Kelley Grusin, both of the University of Memphis.
The journal is now more than a quarter-century old, but it still holds fast to its original tenet: bridging the gap between media professionals and communication educators. As Dr. Guido H. Stempel III, the senior research editor, said, “The establishment of the Newspaper Research Journal might have been titled ‘The Chi Squares Meet the Green Eyeshades.’ At that time many on both sides of the issue felt that there was little common ground between the two groups and little reason to seek any.”
NRJ has helped the two groups Stempel described find that elusive common ground.
“Journalists always are looking for fresh knowledgeable sources,” Izard said, “and NRJ should be one of those sources – both as a result of having published research on journalistic issues that attract public interest and as a result of scholars having studied the journalistic process in a way that helps media decision-makers.”
NRJ continues to produce a strong product as it moves into its 30th edition, and nothing in the future suggests its mission will ever deviate from its original path.
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