Journalism’s worst week

What a week. What a terrible, awful, heartrending week for our industry, our colleagues, us. Tributes and obituaries are everywhere. Heaven just got one hell of a news team, but it has been a brutal week for journalism.

Our losses seem almost unbearable. Truth, a touch more elusive.

Laurie Becklund. Bob Simon. David Carr. Alison Gordon. Stan Chambers. R.I.P., all.

Our first cruel blow came Sunday when former San Diego Tribune and Los Angeles Times border reporter Laurie Becklund died at her home of metastatic breast cancer. She was 66 and “born a reporter,” journalist Barbara Kantrowitz told the Times.

From the Times’ tribute: “Toward the end of her life, Becklund was still reporting, according to Kantrowitz, untangling the politics of breast cancer. ‘She wanted to find out why so much attention was paid to early detection and not to metastatic cancer,’ Kantrowitz said.”

Then Tuesday, within about an hour, a quick succession of stunning revelations: Jon Stewart was leaving The Daily Show, on his own terms, but still; Brian Williams was leaving NBC Nightly News, on a six-month suspension for embellishing an Iraq War anecdote, and CBS 8 sports director Kyle Kraska was shot 10 times — 10! — outside his San Diego home in a dispute with his painter and rushed to the hospital, where he remains in critical but stable condition. Each of those were stories that alone could occupy our conversations for a week. But not this week.

Because Wednesday, suddenly, 60 Minutes standout Bob Simon was dead in a car crash in New York. It was unfathomable. He was 73 and had won 27 Emmys, believed, as CBS reported, to be the most ever earned for a field reporter; he’d also won four Peabody Awards in a five-decade career.

Thursday was no less terrible: David Carr, just 58, The New York Times’ marvelous media critic and champion, collapsed in his newsroom and died. Grieving, we learned, too, that Alison Gordon, the first full-time female beat reporter in Major League Baseball, was dead at 72. Yahoo Sports recalled that her initial Baseball Writers Association of America membership card “infamously referred to her as Mr. Alison Gordon, because they’d never had a woman in the association.”

Her death brought sorrow because she was a standard-bearer, but Carr’s collapse is just heart-breaking because he was for many the heart of the industry. A gruff, no-holds-barred giant of journalism, he once told the graduates of UC Berkeley: “Being a journalist, I never feel bad talking to journalism students because it’s a grand, grand caper. You get to leave, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories, edit the tape. That’s not gonna retire your loans as quickly as it should, and it’s not going to turn you into a person who’s worried about what kind of car they should buy, but that’s kind of as it should be. I mean, it beats working.”

Twitter, as the Washington Post put it, howled with pain Thursday night, when the co-editor-in-chief of Variety wrote this:

The question certainly seemed hyphothetical.

And that was before Friday, when maybe we all thought we’d wake up, catch our breath and stagger into the weekend with the sort of bad news — someone else’s — that we typically deliver, but no.

Friday, we learned that KTLA newsman Stan Chambers was dead at 91. Over the course of 63 years — 63! — with the station, he reported more than 22,000 stories. Twenty-two thousand.

Some of those stories were sad, like the one we’re telling now. It’s just part of the job. We get that. Always has been. But this week, mourning these losses, we grieve for our own and thank them for their service and send them on their way and remember why we do the work we do. Why we try.

So thank you for your service, everyone. Now and always, caper on.

Here is Carr’s commencement speech to the University of California, Berkeley, in 2014 when he spoke of this grand, grand caper, and of us.


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