“His name was Halberstam”

Like many other journalists, I’ve had a few words to say about the untimely death and lasting impact of David Halberstam, one of the 20th century’s greatest reporters, in Inquirer Current. But the Project for Excellence in Journalism has a round-up of Halberstam tributes and obituaries, and it deserves a close read.

Many of the tributes are in praise of Halberstam’s generous, giving nature, written by journalists on the receiving end of that generosity: Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher, Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, Bill Simmons of ESPN, among many others. Other appreciations seek to see Halberstam whole; there is the inevitable once-over of Halberstam’s notorious run-on sentences, but the context is overwhelmingly positive: Henry Allen in the Washington Post was the first I read, but George Packer in the New Yorker and Richard Reeves came in (or should I say came through?) in quick succession. For me, however, the most memorable of the tributes was Steve Sheppard’s in The Nantucket Independent, because it was suffused, despite (or because of) Halberstam’s peripatetic career, with a solid sense of place.

None of these tributes, however, raised the points my good friend Gej did, in his comment on the Current post. To my mind, this is the best summary of Halberstam’s appeal, whether as war reporter or sportswriter.

But the excerpt also gave another insight into the man- he seemed always to be fascinated by transitions, those moments before irreversible change.

He captured that period between the time America believed in, then realized the quagmire that was the Vietnam War.

He chronicled the time when Japan was emerging as a giant in automobile production.

He chose the Summer of 49′ , as if to liken the purity of American baseball during those times with the soon-to-be-lost innocence of pre-Vietnam war America

He wrote about a champion basketball team in Breaks of the Game, during their post-championship decline

Somehow he captured the excitement of an eagle about to take flight, as well as the tension of precious crystal about to fall off the edge of a table.

Ah, yes. A faithful reader’s perspective sees it all.

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1 Comment

Filed under Readings in Media

One response to ““His name was Halberstam”

  1. Gej

    Thanks, John.

    And many more thanks for the link to the many tributes to David Halberstam from so many gifted journalists across America, who considered him their mentor.

    In your professional field, probably stressingly full of deadlines, interviews and research to do, it’s just amazing to discover how Halberstam was always willing to help out colleagues and aspirants to your craft. The tributes were full of recollections of how he could give of himself to other reporters, from the rookies to the veterans, even while churning out so many thouroughly worked books.

    His “generosity of spirit”, which, as many attested to, exceeded his passion, skill and dedication to his reporting, is certainly worth reflecting on and emulating. What a model for your profession, and for us too.

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