Tom Wicker, an exceptional journalist, writer, and thinker, is dead. I doubt my students have heard of him. That’s my fault; I should tell them more about the journalists past as well as present. His obituary in The New York Times recalls his brilliant career.
Wicker wrote good stories and abhorred the practices that produced bad stories. From The Times‘ obit:
Mr. Wicker’s “On Press” (1978) enlarged on complaints he had made for years: the myth of objectivity, reliance on official and anonymous sources. Far from being robust and uninhibited, he wrote, the press was often a toady to government and business.
In his honor, please permit me to revisit a post I wrote about Wicker some months ago. What makes a good news story? Or a bad one?
Nearly a decade ago, my university’s journalism school gave an award to Wicker, whose “In The Nation” column ran in The Times from 1966 through 1992. His columns were sufficiently critical of Richard Nixon to earn Wicker a place on Nixon’s enemies list.
In accepting our modest award, Wicker said, “Find out what you can and tell the people what you know.”