To say David Halberstam was a “great writer” would be correct, but deficient. Halberstam was a distinguished American, whose articulate writings told the story with something so often absent in journalism today: honesty. Halberstam, 73, was killed yesterday in an auto accident in San Francisco. I have long considered Halberstam one of my favorite writers; enticed by his vast knowledge of both sports and history, and the way he so eloquently intertwined the two. Halberstam had the innate ability to take a story and synthesize it in a way that forced the reader to care. It was nonfiction that read like fiction.
Halberstam, a Harvard graduate, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for his work in Vietnam as a New York Times correspondent. He would later offer his captivating pen to the sports world, and wrote several books on topics ranging from Dimaggio to Jordan, and most recently Bill Belichick. I had the fortune of hearing Halberstam speak when he visited UK a couple of years ago, and came away with a better sense of the word “journalism” during that short time than I did in all my time studying it in school. He was truly a throwback; a man of integrity, insight, humor, and social conscience. One of my favorite stories he told that day was about his first job out of college with a community paper in Mississippi. Not many Harvard graduates flock to the rural south upon commencement, especially during the height of the Civil Rights movement, but he was eager for a challenge. Halberstam then moved to Nashville to work at The Tennessean before taking his craft to the war zones of Vietnam for the NYT. From 2001-02 he worked as a part-time contributor for ESPN’s Page 2, all the while sharing his wisdom in an assortment of books. I urge you to read his interview with the Academy of Achievement upon his induction in 1994.
In an existing society where it seems journalists often stray from the principles upon which it was founded, Halberstam was a gentle voice of reassurance that the real story, told by real people, still had significance. Said Halberstam, “Doing something that you like, something that you value, something that…remains with a resonance within the society, allows you to feel good about yourself, pride in your craftsmanship that you’re serious and that you can still learn. It is a very, very satisfying life. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying. I can imagine careers that would make more money, but I can’t imagine anything that would make me feel better about myself.”
Thank you Mr. Halberstam, for choosing the right career.