Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mourning the Passing of Daniel Schorr

I spent the morning listening to the memorial program on NPR for Daniel Schorr. Like many journalists of Schorr's generation--he was 93 when he passed away yesterday--I didn't know much about his history or the trajectory of his professional life. It was fascinating, and touching, to hear his interviews with Robert Siegel, taped when Schorr turned 90, reflections of the life he had led and the history of the 20th century for which he had been both a witness and a participant. I knew him mostly from his commentaries on Scott Simon's Weekend Edition, which I listened to with pleasure each week, always ready for his gravely, thoughtful voice to discuss the week's news and its affects.

Thinking about Schorr's life led me to remembrances of another journalism giant--Charles Kuralt, whose memoirs I grew up listening to as audiobooks and who I watched on CBS Sunday Morning every week. Much of my knowledge of foreign affairs began with those books. There was a story he told about a bricklayer that stays with me today, as do his stories of covering the war in the Congo--showing how he mastered the art of the particular, human narrative as well as being able to describe the complicated, heartbreaking and infuriating affairs of the world.

I've always had a love affair with public radio--the kind of affair that fades when I forgot to stay in the habit of listening, and then blooms again when I remember what I am missing. In college, I spent a summer taking a writing workshop at night, which often led me to stay awake til the early morning, taking walks around the nearby lake and simply being quiet and still, and then turning on my radio and listening to the BBC. As a kid, I had read a lot of books about World War II, which frequently included the desperate desire of many to hear the news from the BBC, and listening to the broadcasts from my utterly safe dorm room called forth some sense of the risk broadcasters took to send their voices out over the airwaves.

These memories are not offered as a way to mourn the past or to complain how things today are so different--I don't think they are, in essence, even if the noise around everything has grown much greater and intelligent perspectives much harder to find in the mess of the web and the hundreds of TV and radio stations. I simply wanted to take a moment and consider what voices have shaped my engagement with the news, and to remember anew what risks reporters take every day, how much they believe in the work they are doing. I dreamt of being that kind of person at one point in my life, but I didn't have the force of will to search out the world and shape it into words that can be aired, or filmed, or printed and tell us all something more about life beyond our front doors. I'm grateful for those men and women who do have that stamina and passion, whose voices help open my ears and my eyes, and touch my heart.

Whose words is it that you listen for, in the past and today, whose work you trust to tell you something important about the world?

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