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The Christian Science Monitor's Media Milestone

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When David Cook, the avuncular senior editor and Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor, introduces House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia to a roomful of reporters at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington Thursday morning, it will mark a milestone, albeit a sad one, for one of the Capital's longest running journalistic exercises.

It will be the first time in 43 years, after nearly 3,400 on-the-record sessions with political movers and shakers, usually over scrambled eggs and bacon breakfasts, that the two dozen or so reporters attending the Monitor's venerable newsmaker breakfasts won't be able to pick up a copy of the tabloid on their way out.

As Cook noted last Friday, before introducing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, this was "an eventful day" for the Boston-based international daily newspaper founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1908. "After one hundred years, today's copy is our final daily print edition," he declared.

Cook explained that the five-days-a-week Monitor, like so many other newspapers around the country and the world, is making the transition from print to online, from Gutenberg to Google, so to speak, and henceforth will be available only at its website, www.CSMonitor.com, although its 50,000 daily subscribers will soon be able to read a new weekly print edition.

Cook echoed the words of the Monitor's editor, John Yemma, who said in a "Dear Readers" message in Friday's final print edition, "We are making this shift to keep the Monitor relevant and to move our journalistic mission toward financial sustainability."

The demise of the daily Monitor's print edition was only the latest example of how newspapers and magazines are rapidly moving from doorstep to desktop as they grapple with life in the brave new world of the Internet.

In recent days, for example, newspapers from San Francisco to Seattle to Denver to Detroit to Washington and New York have taken drastic steps to lower costs through offering electronic versions; offering buyouts; ordering layoffs, pay cuts and forced days off; limiting home delivery, and even closing down.

As the Monitor's Yemma put it, "To survive in today's business environment, newspapers everywhere are taking radical steps. Some are decreasing the frequency of print. Some are now Web-only. Some have shut down or surrendered to receivership."

I asked Cook, who went to work for the Monitor in June, 1969, about his feelings after last Friday's breakfast. "Yemmo spoke for me very well," he said. "All of us are going to miss the daily print version. It's been a big part of my life. But I'm glad that we remain committed to thoughtful, constructive journalism that has a global scope, and that we're keeping our editorial resources."

So Cook will carry on as usual Thursday, introducing Rep. Cantor and telling reporters who want to ask a question to "make a subtle, non-threatening gesture."

But at least one regular attendee, this one, will think of what Cook's predecessor, Godfrey Sperling Jr., who launched the Monitor's first newsmaker breakfast - actually, it was a lunch with then-Sen. Chuck Percy (R-Ill.) on Feb. 8, 1966 - told me when I interviewed him after he presided over his 3,156th breakfast in September, 2000.

I asked Budge Sperling, now 93 and recovering from a serious automobile accident, if his approach to inside-the-Beltway journalism was still relevant in the Internet era. Sperling, who still used a Royal typewriter at the time, replied, "I hope so. I'd hate to think there's no room for it."

I hope there's still room for the kind of journalism represented by the Monitor breakfasts, but they're never going to be as important in the drastically altered media landscape of the 21st century as they once were.