by Benjamin J. Kirby
I didn't know the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who died reporting in Syria. Nonetheless, the story of his death has haunted me throughout the day, like a spirit seeking rest.
I think I know why.
To be honest, I was not familiar with Mr. Shadid's work, to my everlasting shame. I do recall reading his article from December of 2009 about American troops leaving Iraq. It won him the Pulitzer Prize. And his new book, House of Stone which is due out this spring, is now on my must-read list.
I am quite loathe to compare myself to a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who worked at all the A-list organizations: the New York Times, the AP, the Washington Post. Mr. Shadid, shot and wounded in 2002, was perfectly willing to take great risks for his craft, which was, at its heart, telling a great story.
I'm not sure I would be willing to be kidnapped by Libyans for the sake of a story. I'm not sure I'd be willing to take a bullet in the shoulder. Perhaps this makes me less of a storyteller -- in fact, I'm sure it does -- but the kinship I feel is very real.
Mr. Shadid had been married once before, as have I. He grew up in Oklahoma City, I grew up in Little Rock, two southern towns not that far apart. He was 43, I will be 41 in August. He had a daughter through his first marriage and a son with his second wife. I have a daughter and a son on the way.
Mostly, though, I heard about his death on NPR this morning, and again this afternoon, and I thought about him today. In the Deborah Amos story on NPR, this struck a chord with me:
He was often asked to account for what "outsiders" saw as a certain recklessness. He'd already had some hair-raising close calls including a gunshot wound and a kidnapping along with his New York Times colleagues in Libya. An interviewer for Mother Jones magazine put the question directly. How did Shadid determine which stories were worth risking his life? Is there a story worth dying for?
"I've struggled with that question a lot," he said. "I don't think there's any story worth dying for, but I do think there are stories worth taking risks for."
Mr. Shadid died for the story, and for his family and friends and colleagues, my heart goes out.
Here's a little secret about me: I'm not actually good at very much. I didn't do so great in school. I'm terrible with tools and trying to fix things around the house. Compared to the work of other fathers and husbands, I'd probably rate average, at best.
But I tell a pretty good story. Of course, as Mr. Shadid might have told us, telling stories isn't really the hard part -- it's getting the story. I'd agree: no story is worth dying for. But with good stories often comes risk. Today I wondered if maybe I need to take on a bit more risk in search of better stories. I'm sure I know what Anthony Shadid would have said.