The nation didn’t just lose a lovely human being when Washington Post writer David Broder died this week. It lost a valiant symbol of what real journalism is all about.
Broder, who died at 81, was relentless in his pursuit of good journalism, but he defined his work not by how many people he got fired or pushed out of a presidential race, but how well he communicated the issues at hand and the public’s thinking about them. He could be tough on elected officials and those seeking public office, but he didn’t have contempt for them. He didn’t see anything inherently suspicious in wanting to lead; he admired those who were willing to take on the responsibility, even as he held them accountable for their statements and their actions in the job. [See a slide show of the best cities to find a job.]
He didn’t giggle meanly in anticipation of writing some snarky tweet or gossipy item that would serve no other purpose other than to make someone squirm. He did his homework on stories—a task admittedly more difficult now that media outlets put so much pressure on reporters to constantly tweet, blog, and update stories on the web, even before the stories have been fully reported.
As a columnist, Broder never adopted that superior, removed sense that can afflict those who move to The Other Side (otherwise known as the editorial page). He could be seen on Capitol Hill, trolling the second floor for quotes along with the rest of the congressional press corps. He was unfailingly kind and helpful to younger reporters, making newcomers on the campaign trail feel welcome, seemingly unaware of his own legendary status. [Follow the money in Congress.]
And while candidates and reporters increasingly rely on the work of pollsters to tell them what the American public is thinking, Broder consistently did the traditional, shoe-leather work of reporting. You knew the presidential campaign season was starting, because Broder would don his plaid flannel shirt, head to Iowa, and knock on doors, chatting up voters to assess the public mood.
It was inevitable that Broder, like the rest of us, would one day die. But the journalism he practiced doesn’t have to.