Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Memoir by foreign correspondent is also a tribute to local newspapers and their value to journalism

Jeffrey Gettleman (Twitter photo)
A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Jeffrey Gettleman is more than a memoir of his career as the East Africa bureau chief; it's a "passionate swan song" to local American newspapers, "even if he didn’t intend it to be." In his review of Love, Africa for Columbia Journalism Review, Joe Freeman says Gettleman was determined to cover Africa, where he had traveled as a student, from the beginning of his career. But the conventional wisdom of the late '90s dictated that he needed to work his way up. He started out at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida in 1998, by 2001 was a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, then went on to the NYT, where he is now East Africa bureau chief

"His heart wasn't in Florida," writes Freeman, a Burma-based correspondent. But he says Gettleman's stint in Florida was crucial to his development as a reporter—and wonders about the future of journalism. Local news coverage is "more important than ever, but the jobs aren’t as plentiful as they once were, and working at a scrappy local or regional paper doesn’t have the pull that it once had. Nor is it seen as a reliable stepping stone professionally. That’s a significant change, and raises the question of what, if anything, has been lost in the process," Freeman writes. "Gettleman would not be the journalist he is today without that interlude. It makes me think about all the journalists who don’t get the same opportunity today. The chapter on those years is also one of the most enjoyable to read because he’s not a hotshot reporter yet. He’s getting his purple prose excised. He’s being reined in left and right. He’s learning a craft. That’s a beautiful thing to watch."

And impatient as Gettleman was to rise in his career, he looks back on his time in Florida with nostalgia. "That job was the best f---ing job," he writes. "It was rooted in the real world. Newspapers, especially small ones, are like that—they’re old school, they’re fact-based, they’re pure. The journalism they practice is less adorned than magazine work; it has less spin than radio; it’s much deeper than TV. Walt Whitman worked at a small newspaper; so did Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Everybody should work at a small newspaper. The amount of life you take in is staggering."

1 comment:

ezzell said...

The last paragraph of this report is a treasure. I've never seen it said better than Gettleman did in those few, powerful words.