The Marine Corps of Journalism  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   October/November 2007

The Marine Corps of Journalism   

By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (sricchia@iupui.edu) is an AJR senior contributing writer.     


Former war reporter Richard Pyle sees "pure, raw journalists," the kind he wrote about in a new book about the Associated Press' history, as an endangered species.

The longtime member of the foreign correspondents club in Tokyo, where from 1979 to 1987 he served as the AP's Asia news editor, says the once popular bar has had to accept public relations professionals and other non-journalists to survive.

"There aren't enough of us around. That is a pretty good barometer of what is going on in foreign reporting today," says Pyle, one of the authors of "Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else," a 432-page history published in May.

In the preface, AP CEO Tom Curley writes that the wire service has been called the "Marine Corps of journalism," always first in and last out. The book's 12 sections--ranging from war coverage, authored by Pyle, who served as Saigon bureau chief, to hellish disasters, such as the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004--offer a map of the wire service's global reach. The storytelling is rich and, at times, poignant.

Thirty-year AP veteran Jerry Schwartz described how Muharram Nur, a veteran stringer from the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh, sent a short text message to the AP's Jakarta bureau: An earthquake had struck, the strongest he had ever felt. He was running out to inspect the damage. Minutes later, Nur was swept away by a tidal wave that killed thousands. His brief message was the first word of a massive disaster, wrote Schwartz.

The book, according to its jacket, is a trip down memory lane with "the Saigon bureau chief who served Coca-Cola and pound cake to three North Vietnamese soldiers before writing the bulletin announcing the fall of Saigon" and with the AP reporter who had a special relationship with Abraham Lincoln.

David Halberstam, who earned a Pulitzer Prize while covering the Vietnam War for the New York Times, wrote the foreword, warmly recalling memories of hanging around with the AP's Saigon team. "There is a camaraderie that comes from shared values and shared obligations on a story like Vietnam; being a reporter is at the very core of a democracy, of being a free person in a free society," wrote Halberstam, who was killed in an automobile crash in April 2007 before the book was released.

Sherry Ricchiardi

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