Sunday, June 22, 2008

saying goodbye to one of the good guys

I fell in love long ago, with the romanticism of journalism. That romanticism took the form of Robert Redford in "All the President's Men" and Michael Keaton in "The Paper." It is Cary Grant in "His Girl Friday" and George Clooney in "Good Night and Good Luck." In my image of the profession, the journalist is the everyday guy (or gal). Slightly neurotic, with sleeves rolled up and a quick wit about them, they find solace in the sound of keys being furiously tapped on a keyboard in order to make deadline. They are in a constant state of awareness - of what is happening around them. And every story counts - everything means something. And every lead - a chance to save the world - to show that world is a part of themselves they may not be aware of.

When studying journalism in college ... my teacher taught me a very important lesson in the very beginning weeks of class. He was discussing beats, the subjects that journalists will commit themselves to. Politics, entertainment, religion, world affairs.

Some kids laughed when he mentioned that obituaries were typically the most read section of a newspaper. "You may laugh," he said. "But the truth is, it is an important section. Not just because people read them. But because for many people it is the only time they'll see their name or have something written about them in the paper."

I imagined sitting down with the families and sharing in their lives and giving them a piece of their family member or friend, all summed up with sweet and sensitive words, wrapped up tight like a gift - and even with an obituary -someone's world would be touched.

I'm often reminded how valuable one life is - staring at the loss of many. In the loss of local officials or average citizens taken away by storms and flooding - or even a reporter whose influence was so great - it inspired an entire nation.

The amount of attention brought on by the passing of Tim Russert last week was in a way, comforting. To know that there are people out there who believe in and respect a journalist who sat week after week with political leaders, world leaders - and the one thing people continue to remember him for - is being a regular guy.

I am always at a loss when the profession that I love - and am still learning - loses one of its own. With Peter Jennings and David Bloom - the image of the hardworking journalist with dusty boots and sleeves rolled up to the elbow ... tired eyes and a sore voice ... grew a bit dimmer. It has been replaced with fancy ties and lapel pins and perfectly coifed hair. And men who are more attracted to the spotlight than the pathways carved out for all of us newcomers by such greats as Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite and even Ernest Hemingway.

Everyday I find myself questioning the nuts and bolts of journalism. Journalists have a distinct honor. We are not just part of an industry. We are a tradition. A provision in the Constitution of the United States of America.

Bound by profession to the truth - but vulnerable to the fact that we do not necessarily control what is presented as that truth, we are ceaseless diggers and searchers for the story. For the piece of the every man in every issue - both on a small town community street- and at the far corners at the world.

Journalism is the art of bringing both of those perspectives together. The small town - and the whole world. It is making life relatable -by telling an amazing story. To tell a story that is equal parts personal, aware, and global. And most importantly - true.

The truth about Tim Russert is, he brought the everyday guy to the world stage with his work on Meet the Press. He was unpretentious and unflinching - all at once. He had Irish roots - like me, my father being born and raised in Dublin. As his Irish culture was brought to light over and over by speakers at his tribute last night - for the first time I felt a little closer to my own. To watch him, you knew he was informed - no, he was infused with the subjects he was discussing. He made me want to read twice as much and know just a little bit more. He was never unprepared in an interview. If he was, you couldn't tell. And he was always working on behalf of someone else. The people.

People may only see the new state of journalism ... that blurs the lines between report and commentary. In truth, the premise of the profession has not changed. People may stray from it from time to time. But the purpose remains.

And every so often someone like Russert comes along and shows it's possible to still have integrity and virtue and morality in what we do - and still be exhilarated by our work.

So, this weekend I will make sure to find time to sit down at my favorite Irish pub. Wait on a thick pint of Guinness. Have a drink for one of the good guys, and remember what it means to report, inform and remember.

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