Alexander Cockburn Death Marks Loss of Classic Journalism


The Los Angeles Times reported on the life and death of radical journalist Alexander Cockburn who wrote columns for the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal, and the Nation. In February, there was another tragic loss in the journalism community with the death of Anthony Shadid a   New York Times journalist. With the deaths of these reporters, it could be said that contradictory, empathetic, hard-hitting, and poetic journalism is indeed dead. But the truth is, journalism is alive and well and maybe not coming from where you'd expect as bloggers turn the internet into a front page worth reading.

In my room, I have a cutout of a 2010 article written by Shadid for the New York Times titled "In the New Iraq, A Familiar Taste of Misery". The article begins with the news, continues lyrically to the story woven through the lens of individual interviews, and concludes with the most poignant sentence I ever read as a 21-year-old with very little knowledge to understand what was going on in Iraq: "I don't know why Iraqi lives are considered cheap." The sentence is not Shadid's own and is actually a quote from an interviewee Yusuf Mahmoud. But his choice to use it to so poignantly to cap his piece was a journalistic decision that made it an article I have kept on my wall for almost two years now.

Cockburn enjoyed ruffling feathers with his work and it shows in what people had to say about him. According to an interview by the Los Angeles Times, Amy Wilentz, a contributing editor at the Nation, said of Cockburn "His legacy was his commitment to truth, his disgust at the pretense of objectivity, his belief that every piece of writing had an ideological slant, and that you had to admit it." 

With the loss of these two great writers who let the people show through their work and made their writing an experience, it would look like journalism that aims to those levels is slowly fading away. But you don't have to look very far to see that it's not true. 

NPR engages in high caliber journalism every day of the week. Recently, Kelly McEvers of NPR has been producing a series about the conflict in Syria while in a country that gives the listener the sense of an complete honesty and nuance that is difficult to achieve in journalistic endeavors. It's sublime reporting and fleshes out a picture of Syria that's hard to grasp from other reports being done. 

But more than NPR, individuals not necessarily affiliated with any news outlets are making the internet their own, and producing work that has similar high-quality journalistic goals. A few blogs that I follow actively (oftentimes feminist in nature) are rife with the honesty and beauty achieved by other professionals but offer interactivity with the author like only the internet can provide. Journalism abounds in many different forms these days and great journalism is by no means dead; it's just not where you might first look for it.