Thursday, May 01, 2008

journalism and thoughts, and i know i can't write a headline to save my soul

Here is a WSJ reporter farewell to his colleagues, reprinted on Portfolio's Web site (and pasted below):


This is my last day at work after nearly nine years at the Journal. I'm off next month to Fortune magazine.

Most of my time at the Journal has been spent in Boston, where I have been fortunate to witness some extraordinary journalism. The reporting here has been shepherded by three superb bosses. These editors - Caleb Solomon, Gary Putka, and Mark Maremont - created environments where tough, probing journalism flourished. They also understood that great Journal stories -- whether complex corporate probes or powerful narratives -- can take weeks, if not months of reporting time.

But I remember those stories. Like the article for the New England edition of the Journal in 2000 that exposed Boston's Big Dig as an enormous boondoggle. Written by Geeta Anand and edited by Caleb and the great Larry Rout, the 2,700-word piece began with typical Wall Street Journal understatement: "James J. Kerasiotes is not a meek man." It was a gutsy story. Geeta's work ran counter to other media accounts, which had characterized the country's biggest public works project as a success.

Then there was Dan Golden's powerful series on white affirmative action, edited by Gary Putka. "Of the 79 members of the class of 1998 at the Groton School, 34 were admitted to Ivy League universities. Not Henry Park." Three thousand words later, Dan had changed millions of Americans' perceptions of affirmative action.

My last boss, Mark Maremont, had the foresight to propose the project on stock option manipulations. It took a lot of courage for the paper to run the first story. Our editors made sure that plenty of space was available for ensuing follow-ups. The impact of the stories was considerable: more than 70 corporate officers and directors were fired and 18 were criminally charged.

The power of what we do became evident to me last spring at an awards ceremony in New York. At the event, an Iranian photographer was honored after 25 years of anonymity for a photo he took of an execution. The photographer, who risked his life for his craft, accepted a Pulitzer in the presence of two relatives of the dead. It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed. The photographer and the relatives had been discovered by our own Josh Prager. His stunning article ran at 5,439 words.

I'm grateful to have been given a chance to work with such fine reporters and editors. You inspire and inform. You shine light into dark places. And, yes, you entertain. Keep it up.

Thank you for your friendship.

And sorry, Mark and Gary about this email's formatting. I never did get the hang of it.


James Bandler is one of the reporters I meant to e-mail somewhere along the line; he and Geeta Anand both started their reporting careers at the Rutland Herald, where I nearly accepted a job. Geeta's niece is one of my girls, and when I was trying to figure out what to do a couple months ago, she patiently let me talk through things and found me helpful people. It was also because of Geeta that I read Josh Prager's work -- the man is an interesting and brilliant reporter. I stumbled upon James' letter via a Google alert I have set up with Geeta's name. She hasn't written anything in a while; last I heard from her sister, it was because she was considering moving to India.

James left the paper I hope(d) to work at one day, except that I'm not sure that paper still exists.

All this incoherence is... incoherence, I guess. I'm hungry, a little overworked, and still nursing a New York City hangover. It all seems so sad today.

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