Walt’s gone. Peter Jennings is gone. Tim Russert, too.
Across the country in the past two years, 12,000 journalists — many of them savvy veterans who actually knew how to do their jobs really well, so expensive at the peak of their career that their salaries were half that of a beginning law associate — are also gone, many of them likely forever, fired from newspapers and magazines and wire services and television and radio.
Some of them are here at T/S. Some are freelancing, writing books, teaching, doing PR. A fortunate few have found other full-time jobs in journalism. Many have left the field for good.
Who among them, staff or freelance, are our Jedi Knights? Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz talks here about who in the business we might still trust…
Is there anyone, past or present, that journalists in any medium still look to for inspiration, guidance, some signpost of how it’s done well and still needs to be? I read, listen and watch every day for work I think excellent, whether in its originality, wit, depth, analysis, and hope you, if you’re a working journalist, do too. For me, it can be as simple as a beautifully-written turn of phrase in a book I’m reading for pleasure, like the new “Bright Young People”, a history of jazz age Londoners by British biographer D. J. Taylor, who referred to one man’s career “that existed largely in the subjunctive.” Loved that.
I polled a number of my colleagues for some of their favorites…
Essayist Roger Rosenblatt. Said one colleague, “His New Yorker piece Making Toast, about caring for the children of his late daughter, is magnificent. A lesson in humanity and in writing.”
Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Angier, “because she writes about basic science for a lay audience and she does it like a poet.”
Hemingway, for his language. Norman Mailer. War correspondent Ernie Pyle and his book Here Is Your War. Home Country, says one friend, is his masterpiece. “In 1935, he persuaded his editor to let him travel the whole U.S. and its territories, filing at least one dispatch from each place. Home Country contains the best of these. I admire his style because it was so simple, yet poignant or funny, depending on the circumstance. Then there was his talent for illustrating character. Nellie Bly was an outstanding early female journalist. Read Ten Days in a Madhouse. Her work was similarly upretentious and exceptionally compassionate and courageous. She had herself committed [to an insane asylum in 1887] by convincing strangers she was mentally ill, took medicines given her and endured ghastly conditions for days — with an eye for the right details. I think I can safely call Ten Days unforgettable.” She also names Andy Rooney and Arthur Bell, a writer for the Village Voice from 1969 to 1984, who wrote often on gay issues.
Jacob Riis, author of the 1890 study of New York City poverty How The Other Half Lives and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
Bill Eppridge, photographer. Now on contract to Sports Illustrated, former staff photographer for Life, perhaps best-known for his iconic image of Bobby Kennedy, shot and lying on the floor.
Eddie Adams. We all know his terrible image of the execution of a Vietcong officer in a Saigon street. Fellow photographers knew, and many revered, Adams, who died in 2004 of ALS. His legacy lives on in the Eddie Adams photo workshops.
Stephen Crowley, New York Times photographer (featured in an upcoming J-Day), who’s been traveling the world for the paper for years. Currently a member of the White House Press Corps.
Gail Collins, op-ed columnist at The New York Times, razor sharp and very funny.
Anna Quindlen. Graceful, lively writer formerly of The New York Times.
Some of my contemporary favorites:
Nick Kristof, New York Times columnist. For a guy, he spends a lot of time on issues even most women’s magazines won’t touch — maternal health, fistulas, sex slavery. He keeps pointing his finger at the things that outrage him, and should outrage us, but just aren’t cool enough, or are expensively too far away, for most other journalists to focus on. If his work has saved one woman’s life, as it likely has, I’m grateful to him.
Kate Adie, a legendary television journalist and possibly the best-known, now on BBC Radio, in her native Britain. A fearless blue-eyed blond, she wears a flak jacket with the elan and comfort of a Chanel. I was flattered to be named in her memoirs as a young journo who had impressed her when we both covered a Royal Tour of Canada by Queen Elizabeth. Best known for her war coverage.
Helen Thomas, dean of the White House Press Corps, a Hearst newspapers columnist, who on Tuesday celebrated her 89th birthday with President Obama sharing a cupcake. She has covered every President since John F. Kennedy.
Christiane Amanpour. We all know her work. I heard her speak in 2006 to a room-full of young Hispanic journalists. Her speech might be the same one she gives everyone, but her passion — decades into this work — practically lit the podium ablaze.
Brian Lehrer. Smart, funny, incisive and compassionate. I’ve been a guest on his radio and TV shows. I can lose an entire two hours every morning listening to his show on WNYC.
Kurt Andersen, whose hour-long weekly radio show on culture in all its forms, Studio 360, broadcast to 450 stations nationwide on PRI, is one of my favorites. Last week’s show included a typically eclectic mix: a feature on the Gold Rush town of Eagle, Alaska; a story about Air Force One, an interview with actor Paul Giamatti and an Austin band called Girl in a Coma.
Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a weekly hour-long radio show broadcast on 500 stations in the U.S. and a television show on Showtime. Quirky, sometimes a little precious, at its best this show it moves me to tears with its stories, linked each week by a theme.
Anne Hull. Pulitzer prize-winner for The Washington Post, a feature writer obsessive about details, she was once brave enough, at the annual Neiman writers’ confererence, to hand out the many drafts of one of her stories, allowing us to see what it took to get it to her standards. Journo’s rarely talk about their process publicly and few reveal the fears and doubts along the way to getting it right, or trying to. It was helpful and terrific.
Lyse Doucet, a fellow Canadian and fellow alumna of University of Toronto, longtime BBC radio and television reporter from Africa and other foreign countries. As anyone who’s tried it knows, life as a foreign correspondent, which can be a great adventure, can also take a real toll, especially for women, on your personal relationships (i.e. marriage and kids) and your health. I really admire the women whose skills and guts have kept them in the game, many time zones away from friends and family, for years.
Stephanie Nolen, a younger reporter for the Globe and Mail who writes from Africa, winner of three National Newspaper Awards and author of three smart books.
Richard Engel, NBC. Insanely brave, and thank God. Here’s his book about five years in Iraq.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Author of “Random Family”, a study of urban poverty that reads like a terrific novel. 2006 McArthur Fellow.
Carol Guzy, Washington Post news photographer, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes for her work. First woman, in 1990, to win News Photographer of the Year award. Here’s an interview with her.
Susan Meiselas, news photographer. In 1992, named a MacArthur Fellow; began her career with Magnum Photos in 1976 and freelance since then, best known for her work in Nicaragua. Won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 1994 from Columbia University for Latin American coverage. On her website, she says, in her voice: “I love photography. It’s my point of engagement…The gift is continuing to be curious and being confident enough to keep going out there to create…not an easy task.”
And three historic M’s:
Martha Gellhorn, a fearless war correspondent (Hemingway’s third wife), who died in London in 1998, a legend in her time. She stowed away on a hospital ship to report on the D-Day invasion; check out the 2004 biography of her by Caroline Moorhead.
Marguerite Higgins, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1951, for international reporting. She died at 45 of leishmaniasis, a disease she contracted while covering Vietnam and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Margaret Bourke-White, whose photograph graced the cover of the first issue of Life magazine, whose images are instantly familiar to many of us, even decades later.
Please share with me some of your favorites, and why…
Next week’s J-Day: Money, Mentors and where to find them.