There are heroes and rabble-rousers, news mongers and martyrs, media moguls, photographers, and sleuths in this captivating new book, Crusaders, Scoundrels, Journalists. In all, it's a rogue's gallery of purveyors of the day's news a collection of personalities and characters of current and past centuries.
Of course, identifying a journalist these days is no simple matter.
There's no argument that Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer sent to Vietnam in the 1960s, is a journalist. Adams immortalized the horror of war with his Newsweek photograph of a Saigon execution. We know Walter Cronkite fits the bill, as did 1950s television reporter Edward R. Murrow.
But what about Jerry Springer, the talk show host whose shows are synonymous with tabloid television brawls? Humorist Erma Bombeck? Or literary giant Edgar Allan Poe? These people, too, fall within the editor's definition of crusaders, scoundrels, and journalists. Has journalism progressed over the centuries? It depends on your point of view. News is more accurate, fair, and responsible today than before, claims Tim Russert in the book's foreword. But he notes, too, that the digital age brings us more inaccuracy, bias, and sensationalism.
Joe Urschel, executive director of Newseum, notes in the introduction that each of the several hundred individuals profiled in the book shaped how the news was reported in their day. Even gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson made his mark with his dismissal of objectivity: With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as objective journalism, he once wrote.
Question is, should we take Thompson's word as gospel? And who qualifies as a newsperson, anyway? In a sense, we are all newspeople from time to time as Crusaders demonstrates.
Loretta Kalb is a business journalist. She writes personal finance and banking news for The Sacramento Bee.