Anthony Shadid: What He Knew

The foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid of The New York Times, has died of an apparent asthma attack while covering the Syrian uprising. He was just 43.

In our November/December issue, Terry McDermott interviewed him about his experiences covering the war in Iraq.

Here is Shadid, whom McDermott noted was “the most honored foreign correspondent of his generation,” in his own words:

The first or second morning after the invasion, I was so tired and I had spent so many years at the AP, learning the rules of keeping your distance from the story, and I said to myself, I’m just going to write it the way I feel it. From then on, I kind of just did that. I think you have to care about these stories to do them justice. And I did care about it. I care about the Middle East. You have to be careful and still there are certain rules you have to follow. But I think there’s enough gray there that you can kind of get away with being a little more interpretive. It’s not easy. What’s so rewarding about the reporting in Egypt, the reporting in Iraq is, if you just tell peoples’ stories, then they become the vehicles for these sentiments, these emotions. It becomes much more real in a certain way. Also much more honest.

The thing I see so often, especially with foreign correspondents, the longer they do this, the more the story becomes about them. I think it’s almost unavoidable for some of these guys who stay there for as long as they do. They’ve seen so much, they’ve experienced so much, they’ve talked to so many people, that in some ways to them it feels repetitive. Their own experience is so much more interesting and compelling. Which is a disaster; the antithesis of what we should be doing as foreign correspondents. It should be about the people we cover. That lesson gets lost over time. It is cynicism.

Meantime, here is The New York Times’s news story on Shadid’s death, and here is its obituary.

Mr. Shadid’s work entailed great peril. In 2002, as a correspondent for The Globe, he was shot in the shoulder while reporting in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Last March, Mr. Shadid and three other Times journalists — Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks — were kidnapped in Libya by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces. They were held for six days and beaten before being released.

Later that year, as the Syrian authorities denounced him for his coverage and as his family was being stalked by Syrian agents in Lebanon, Mr. Shadid nonetheless stole across the border to interview Syrian protesters who had defied bullets and torture to return to the streets.

The Washington Post compiles the stories that in 2010 won him a Pulitzer Prize, his second for the paper. Here’s the Post’s story on his death.

Steve Fainaru, a former Post reporter who worked extensively with Shadid in Iraq and also won a Pulitzer for his own work, recalled him as “the best journalist I’d ever seen — without any question.”

“He wrote poetry on deadline,” Fainaru said. “What made him so great as a journalist [was that] he was able to somehow find compassion and empathy in everything he touched and wrote about.”

Shadid grew up in Oklahoma City, and The Oklahoman talked to his father, Buddy Shadid, Thursday night for this story:

“All I can say is he lived his life like he wanted to and he died reporting. That doesn’t make it easier for me or anyone who loved him.”

NYU’s Jay Rosen, calling Shadid “the best American journalism had,” writes this on Twitter:

These people…. They put their lives on the line so that we may know. Is there anything nobler? Soldiers may equal them. But that is all…

Why do they do it? Seriously: why? For fame? Money? Power? Nope. For thrills? Maybe. Mostly they do it so they can tell the world the truth.

Finally, see this 2006 Poynter analysis of a Shadid lede, which prompted Roy Peter Clark to say “I could conduct a Writing Tools seminar using this passage alone.”

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,