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Tom Meagher


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He didn't know anything.

I read a lot of nonfiction, literary and otherwise, and I recently finished one of the better books I’ve found on American culture and media in the middle of the 20th Century. “The Race Beat” not only chronicles the coverage of the civil rights movement and its effects on American society, it offers a few good lessons on being a journalist.

Here’s my favorite:

“One other thing made Bigart memorable: he spoke with a stammer that colleagues frequently saw him use to his benefit to coax information from reluctant sources.

Lelyveld, sent to Philadelphia after Bigart, met a local minister, introduced himself, and interviewed the minister. He came away with an unforgettable lesson in what it takes to be a great newspaper reporter.

“‘You’ve asked me a lot of questions,’ the minister said in a buttery southern accent after the interview was over. ‘Can I ask you one?’

“‘Yes sir’, Lelyveld responded.

“‘There was a man down here, an older man, said he was from The New York Times. Name of Bigaht. Know ‘im?’

“‘Yes sir.’

“‘Couldn’t have a normal conversation with that man,’ the minister went on. ‘He didn’t know anything. I had to explain evvvverything to him.’”

Not a bad M.O. if you can pull it off. We can all learn from the old masters.