The future of news looks less bright today with the death of David Broder, one of the best journalists of the 20th century. I had the change to work with him at The Washington Post, and all I can think about today is how much I’d enjoy replaying the last 50 years of his life, the last 10 of mine and putting us at the same news organization again.
Here are the Top 10 Best Things that the students in my journalism classes need to know about Mr. Broder.
10. Be a reporter first and an analyst second. Long after Mr. Broder was a television talking head, a syndicated columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, he knocked on the doors of voters in the Ohio River Valley.
9. Respect democracy. Mr. Broder believed in the value of public service and respected the sacrifice of candidates and elected representatives. I saw him treat the most influential members of both parties as human beings rather than targets, even as he probed them with smart, aggressive questions. I suspect the esteem in which he held public service allowed him to have high expectations that required tough questions.
8. Do not be driven by the “scoop.” By the time I had the chance to meet Mr. Broder, political journalism was already on its way to being driven mostly by the ability to deliver small details before your competitors could put together a cogent narrative. But even then, he cared more about being able to explain the story than break it.
7. Write plainly. Mr. Broder’s columns, news stories and books are a pleasure to read for their precision and economy of words. His prose seemed to be designed to make people feel smarter than they really were rather than dumber.
6. Work hard. I suspect that if given the choice between a deadline and party, Mr. Broder would choose the deadline every time.
5. Clean up your office. Seriously. Mr. Broder’s was a death trap. The La Brea Tar Pits of political reporting. Nobody’s perfect, after all.
4. Try new things. Mr. Broder was doing live online discussions with washingtonpost.com readers in 1998. What’s your excuse?
3. Have a sense of humor about yourself. During one of those early online discussions, the website’s political editor sent him an email of thanks and encouragement. Mr. Broder’s response is one I hope to get made into a t-shirt one day: “Did I do something bad on the Internet?”
2. Be an optimist in a world of cynics and naysayers. Mr. Broder cheered for the Cubs. He never tried to convince anyone that the world was worse than it is, and nor did he try to convince them it was better.
1. Take the kids to lunch. When I’m 81, inshallah, I’ll still remember the lunch I had with Mr. Broder. Just he and I. He had lunch with me not because he wanted anything from me. Not because he owed me anything. But because I asked for his time and he was kind enough to offer it. It was sometime around the 2004 election and we talked about his 1981 book, The Changing of the Guard. I had been wondering what the book would look like if it were a series on washingtonpost.com about yet another generation of political advisers and candidates. We talked about how it could be interactive and multimedia. He let me ask questions and make statements that alternated between naive and presumptuous. But he never checked his Blackberry, never looked around the room and never interrupted.
Mr. Broder had so many wonderful characteristics that I try to emulate. Being a great journalists is just one, and far from the most important. He was a great journalist because he was so much more. And I hope that the future of journalism can yield many more in his mold.