In memoriam

The Los Angeles Times's David Shaw, who captured the honor in 1991 for his examination of how the media covered the famous McMartin Pre-School sexual abuse case, may be the only media watchdog to have won a Pulitzer in the criticism category. (For the record, Alex Jones, currently head of Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics and Public Policy, won in the specialized reporting category in 1987 for his coverage of the collapse of the Bingham family newspaper empire in Louisville, Ky.) Harvard

Shaw, who passed away yesterday from complications from a brain tumor, was one of the real pioneers of mainstream media press criticism. L.A. Times And while people in the industry used to snicker about the legendary length of his stories, Shaw lent gravitas and authority to a little corner of the journalism world -- self examination -- that wasn't exactly eagerly embraced by a self-conscious and arrogant news business.

Whatever else he is remembered for, Shaw should be commended for his remarkably detailed 37,000 word post-mortem in December 1999 on his own paper's humiliating scandal. The Times had devoted one issue of its magazine to coverage of the then new Staples Center sports arena and made a deal to share revenues with the center -- in effect becoming business partners with an institution that would be the subject of its ongoing coverage. (All this occurred during a dark period when Mark Willes, who had been the paper's publisher and later became company CEO, had talked of his desire to tear down the "wall" between business and editorial departments.)

Describing the situation as a "flagrant....violation of the journalistic principle of editorial indpendence," Shaw wrote that the Staples fiasco occurred because of "deadened sensibilities and diminished standards." (You try saying that about the people who sign your paycheck some time.)

Within a few months, the Chicago-based Tribune Co. had bought the scandal-scarred Times and cleaned house, with the top newsroom and business-side executives leaving. Now, with the impending departure of Times editor John Carroll raising fresh concerns about the Tribune Co.'s stewardship and bottom-line priorities, there may not have been a happy ending to this tale. Carroll in CJR Daily

But no one should forget David Shaw's contribution to that paper or to the craft of media criticism.
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