The Greatest Journalist of All Time?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There's always a short list for the greatest in any profession. 

Ask me who I think the best basketball player of all time is, and at least three names come to me right away. I'd be able to debate the merits and short comings of all of them. The same goes for the greatest Prime Minister ever, greatest artist ever, and even the greatest novelist ever. 

When it comes to naming the greatest journalist, however, I run into a few problems. That's because I can only name a few. The ones that immediately come to mind are Bob Woodward, Joseph Pulitzer, and maybe Rex Murphy. 

(I'm also stumped when it comes to naming the worst journalist of all time, which is odd, because it's usually easier to determine the lousiest option, then it is the best. For example, the best U.S. President is probably either Washington, Lincoln, or FDR. No real clear cut winner. I think everyone can agree, however, on who the worst was.)

But I only know those names by reputation alone. I know about Woodward because of Watergate and Dustin Hoffman (or was it Robert Redford?). Writing and journalism awards are named after Pulitzer, so he had to have been great. And Rex Murphy is, well, Rex Murphy.

Bernstein and Woodward didn't look this good in real life. Or did they?

There could be some reasonable explanations for this. Maybe a good story speaks for itself. As I learned in Oral Communications, the true star should always be the story.

Still, I think there's something more to be said here. 

It could be attributed to news agencies, who pump out story after story, preceded merely with bylines of "Canadian Press," "Associated Press," or my favorite, "Staff Writer." Or, maybe it's something more. 

I polled a group of my friends about who they thought the best journalist of all time is. Here were the top five answers:

5) a blank stare
4) the guy who writes the blurb for the Sunshine Girl 
3) I just read the story. I never notice who wrote it
2) a blank stare
1) that guy with the grey hair and big nose

Fewf. I'm not alone.

For all the work journalists put into producing stories, (pitching, research, interviews, re-interviews, outlining, writing, etc) it's surprising that we don't know more about them. Maybe anonymity is the key to journalistic greatness. Or, maybe a great story does speak for itself, and everything else, even the person who wrote it, isn't important.

While it's paramount to keep up to date by reading as much as possible, it's also of equal importance to read and learn from the pioneers and trailblazers of the journalistic craft. Simply put, if you want to be best, you need to learn from the best.

So, to help in that pursuit, I've complied a list of legendary journalists that everyone should know more about.

Tom Wolfe
Helen Thomas
Hunter S. Thomson
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein 
Seymor Hirsh
John Hersey
Rachel Carson 

Do yourself a favor and learn at least one thing from each name you see here. They're all journalistic titans, and they deserve a little recognition --even if they don't always get it. 


  1. I'd add a few current Canadians to the list:

    Andrew Coyne
    Michel Auger
    Kirk Makin
    Tim Appleby

  2. I still get blown away by the NT Times on a regular basis. Not a journalist, but quite a long-term track record of good stuff.


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