Published on Arab Voices

A special voice is lost to us

ImageCall me old fashioned, but my favorite source of news is still the writing, and sometimes the voice, of a known reporter or commentator. When one falls, as Anthony Shadid fell yesterday on his way out of Syria, something so special is lost, something that binds thousands of readers in a common web of understanding and appreciation. We mourn for Anthony and his family as one might for a colleague or friend. We knew him, even though we’d never met. We feel the loss as intimately as a familiar presence in a newspaper, whether it crinkles reassuringly in our hands or slides along glass at our fingertips. The voices of thousands of citizens have played a game-changing role in events across the Arab world over the past year and even before that in Iran in 2009. Without many citizen journalists, as we call those on the spot with a mobile device, much of the tragedy unfolding cruelly in Syria now would remain hidden. Anthony was but one of a few very brave journalists who smuggled themselves in at great risk. And most media reports are careful to note when their citizen sources cannot be verified, in other words when they are not known reporters.

So what makes a reporter special, trusted, verified? There is a complex system of governance and checking in newspapers and the big-name publications around the world are assiduous fact checkers. There are also codes of conduct and ethics. But beyond all that there is the trust earned by the journalist. I was a journalist for nearly 20 years and the most precious thing you have is your byline. If you play fast and loose with that, stretch or misrepresent something, your byline loses currency, tarnishes; you lose your badge. And if you have a passion for something, you don’t have to make stuff up, it’s there for the observing, for the asking. I always felt especially privileged as a journalist to have the “right” to call up anyone, ask them what they thought, why they had done something. You weren’t always successful of course but you could get so close.

And then there is observation, seeing something happen, noticing detail and assembling it in a good read.  The NYT today linked to Anthony’s most recently published piece, out of Tripoli. He observes, he describes, he asks questions and captures voices. He also contextualizes which is a critical role for any journalist, the thread in the story that helps you locate the immediate drama in the broader scheme of things. “A sense of entropy lingers here,” writes Anthony of Libya, a wonderfully evocative sentence around which his first-hand accounts range from ordinary citizens buffeted by events to official sources.  

I heard Anthony’s voice on NPR for the first time this morning and was struck by his idealism. I embrace new media and popular participation supported by our technologies. But I also hope we will always have Anthony Shadids, special, passionate professionals, edited, and intermediated by other excellent colleagues as they craft the prized Page One piece. Thank you Anthony.


Dale Lautenbach

Communications Advisor

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