I am working in Harrisburg. State government reporting is, you might say, the junior varsity of Capitol reporting. Pennsylvania does feature the largest full time state legislature in the country, but Harrisburg is not D.C., even I can admit this.
So, there are those who point to Washington D.C. as the home of the world’s greatest reporters – covering the most powerful force in the world certainly requires a deal of talent and influence. Even those in Harrisburg take covering this big State Legislature very seriously, understandably so.
But there are elements to journalism that I can’t help but think matter more to me, interest me more, that serve a great value, particularly as the newspaper industry needs to move towards community stories.
Government oversight is a fundamental, but here, in no particular order, is a list of the journalists I respect and admire most outside of the pressure cooker of U.S. Capitol coverage.
Steve Rubenstein (San Francisco Chronicle): Clearly a common trait of the journalists on this list is happiness, satisfaction with the work they are doing, how they are doing it and where they are doing it. From everything I have ever read about Steve Rubenstein, he displays that more than any other.
He writes stories with headlines like “Thousands gather to celebrate lesbians,’ so it’s no surprise the decades he has put in San Francisco. He also gets do fun things like riding a bicycle across the country and podcasted the venture for the Chronicle.
Michael Vitez (Inquirer): Anyone who has had a conversation like this with me, you know this name comes up most often. My first assignment when I interned with the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2005 was a double byline with a Pulitzer Prize winner, not too bad. Vitez writes with heart, humor and grace covering human interest stories.
In October 2006, he published Rocky Stories, a book chronicling the individual stories of dozens of people – from around the world – who came to Philly to run the Art Museum steps like Stallone did 30 years ago. Now he speaks to trade groups, business conferences and schools about the book’s message – depicted above, and gets interviewed by media like NPR’s Morning Edition.
The real reason I respect him so much? When I spoke to him regularly that year and in brief interactions with him since, he always seems genuinely happy – a happy journalist, what a novel idea – someone who loves him family and his place in the world. I don’t know if there is anything more I would want.
Juan Williams (NPR):The Panamanian-born senior correspondent at NPR, also had a long tenure at the Washington Post and is a frequent contributor to Fox News, a known debater with old Brit Hume. He became involved in television documentary writing, for which he won an Emmy.
In the 1990s, Williams was the topic of sexual harassment allegations and was a staunch supporter of Clarence Thomas joining the Supreme Court. It comes with a political independence that I find refreshing. He has expressed interest in the social plight of black people, defended governmental assistance and other *liberal issues, but has taken otherwise considered conservative opinions when it fit him. His is a self-awareness and intellectual curiosity I respect a great deal.
Alex Kingsbury (U.S. News & World Report): I knew the Kingsbury byline from his work as associate editor, education writer and Iraq correspondent for U.S. News, but was surprised, like many, to see him on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and find out he was just 26-years-old.
I e-mailed him for any advice he had, which included buying a domain name (check), starting a Web site (check), blogging (check) and finding a large publication and sticking around until it hires me (…okay).
Anyway, I am thrilled to see someone so young doing what – I assume – he wants to do, war reporting, editing and having some fun with TV while he’s at it. I can respect him for that alone.
Trudy Rubin (Inquirer): You might not even know the Inquirer has a foreign affairs columnist anymore, but indeed, Rubin, also a member of the Inky’s editorial board, is it.
In the past five years she has visited Iraq nine times and has also written from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, China and South Korea. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. She is a published author and was one of only a handful of American journalists to interview Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his only trip to the United States.
That’s quite a resume, worthy of respect and admiration, I’d say, her politics aside.
My bias is towards my having read his fantastic Inky metro columns retrospectively, but I was also moved by his first novel Third and Indiana, a classic that is set in Philadelphia and was made briefly into a play. He convinced me of the place great writing still has in newspapers today. He gets interviewed by people like Tavis Smiley of PBS and NPR’s Dave Davies, see him below. His newest book, the Soloist, is being made into a movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx that is due out this fall, so he is blowing up and tripping over money, which isn’t terrible.
For the record, when I met him, he was totally weirded out by my wanting a photograph.
Dave Davies (Daily News): Talk to anyone involved in Philadelphia’s historic, contentious and circus-like political environment and he will know and respect Dave Davies. I interviewed him for my senior thesis project on the Philadelphia Republican Party before I graduated from Temple in May.
The senior political writer is smart, savvy, well-circled – being a regular fill-in for Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air – and gets to interview politicians as high-ranking as John McCain.
Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!): She is an activist, so she is called an extremist. She is passionate, so she is villified. She is a voice box for the Left. But, as I have with others on this list, setting aide her politics, leftist, like others on this list, she is a determined and energizing force. Her Democracy Now! independent radio has gone through disputes and dismissals, but her willingness to fight for her cause is unending. It could be said that she is perhaps more ideologue than journalist, and I don’t know if could argue either way with the knowledge and purpose that Goodman could. So I won’t.
Acel Moore (Inquirer): Philadelphia has a remarkable quality of reaching remarkable heights, forgetting, losing out to another city and then, perhaps, rediscovering it in a story in an alternative weekly, such is the case of Acel Moore. Moore first joined the Inquirer in October 1962, a black copy boy in an overwhelmingly white newsroom. More than 40 years later he retired as a Pulitzer Prize winner (third black winner), famed community reporter, editorial board member (first black member) and associate editor. He was good. He was really good.
But what’s more is the South Philly native was a community activist and arbiter of media integration. He founded the Association of Black Journalists; he started internship, scholarship and developmental programs encouraging young people of color to take print journalism jobs and
He still writes occasionally for the Inqy, has an office, and has led the Philadelphia development of the Prime Movers program, which started at George Washington University. It is in that latter respect that I have come to know and desperately admire Moore. He is, no question, getting older, not the man he once was, but his impact will not be forgotten anytime soon. He is a prime example of a journalist being a force of change across the country, not a bad role model at all.
Brian Williams NBC Nightly News: Okay, I had to have at least one celebrity journalist. But he’s the best journalist on TV. The anchor and managing editor of NBC’s premiere news program has received four Edward R. Murrow awards, his fifth Emmy award, and his industry’s highest honor, the George Foster Peabody award.
In 2005, Williams was in Rome to report on Pope John Paul II’s death; in May 2006 he toured and reported in three West African countries, and in March 2007 was in Iraq, from where he has reported before.
This from the official NBC biography of the former New Jersey volunteer firefighter:
GQ named him “the most interesting man in television today,” and in 2001 named him “Man of the Year.” The National Father’s Day Committee named him “Father of the Year” in 1996.
Williams is a frequent guest on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Before joining NBC News, Williams spent seven years at CBS, as a correspondent and anchor in its Television Stations Division in Philadelphia and New York, during which time he covered the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and before that worked at WTTG in Washington. He started his career at KOAM-TV in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Honorable Mention: David Hackworth
David Hackworth (Newsweek): Let’s start off by saying this guy joined the military at age 15, but because Hackworth is now deceased (1930-2005), I thought I couldn’t justify putting him on this list.
Still, he was widely considered one of the most experienced and knowledgeable war correspondents in U.S. journalism, having serious military credo himself. War reporting, it seems, is the true pinnacle of pressure journalism, clearly a sidestep of the D.C. riff I went on at this post’s beginning, so I suppose that’s another reason to keep Hackworth off my life.