The death of Oklahoma City native and New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid last week was a blow to the journalism community and a reminder of just how important this industry is for civilizations in every context, from the tumultuous Middle East to the rural communities in middle America.
For the last several years Shadid’s byline has been one of the most recognizable for me. As a daily subscriber to the New York Times I have enjoyed his coverage from countries like Syria, Lybya and Iraq, and admired his willingness to not only travel to some of the most dangerous regions on the planet, but immerse himself in those cultures so that he could share stories that otherwise would go unknown. Shadid’s stories always seemed to hold a deeply humanistic quality, and when you are writing about war and fights for freedom it is the human element that matters most.
Shadid’s death from an apparent asthma attack is all the more difficult to comprehend. This was a man that had been shot, arrested and physically abused, but it was an asthma attack while walking behind horses that ended his life.
All journalists are not created equal and it would be inappropriate and shallow to compare the work of writers like myself with this Pulitzer winning journalist. At times, Shadid had to dodge bullets while the worst that seems to come my way is the occasional angry letter to the editor. Shadid sacrificed his life and time with his family to report on issues that truly were a matter of life and death. He spent time on the front lines with people who were giving up everything to taste some of the freedoms that most of us – me included – can hardly understand. The reporting I do in Piedmont is important, but comparing a Syrian uprising to political fights over a grocery store contract really helps put life here in perspective.
No, there are no comparisons between our work but that doesn’t mean Shadid is not an inspiration to writers like myself.
Shadid’s death is a reminder of just how important journalism is in our world. It’s true that public opinion of the media has drastically dropped over the past decade but I believe a lot of that has to do with a misunderstanding of what actual journalism is. Political pundits on cable stations, local news reports built on fear mongering and radio show hosts that vomit political dribble on both sides of the aisle for hours on end are not examples of journalism, at least not examples of how journalism should be. But in this world of media over stimulation and agenda-based news outlets it is important to remember there is still high quality journalism taking place and that writers like Shadid make our world a better place – or, at least a more informed place.
Last week the staff here at the Gazette spent a lot of time discussing the future of this publication and what our role is in the community. It had nothing to do with Shadid’s death, but I couldn’t help but be mindful of his sacrifice while we charted a new direction for this publication. Journalism has faced its share of challenges over the past decade and it’s been difficult to navigate this new world of digital media. However, after much thought we have determined that what the Gazette and our community needs is in an even greater commitment to journalism and a larger investment, not less.
It’s easy in today’s newspaper industry to shrink and cut back but the Gazette is a news organization that wants to grow and believes our mission is as important as its ever been. That’s why we are re-launching PiedmontToday.com this Sunday with an even larger online presence. That is why we plan to add to our newsroom in an effort to produce more local stories and perform greater research into important issues.
Piedmont and Syria are two different places but Shadid’s commitment to journalism is a reminder for all of us writers, whether we work in a Middle East desert or a wood-paneled office in the Great Plains. The beauty in Shadid’s work was that it was always centered on people, and in journalism that is always the most important element. The Gazette isn’t about a town; it’s about the people who call this town home. Community journalism’s lifeblood has always been about people and I know of no better way to pay tribute to one of my industry’s giants than by remembering that simple fact.