Anthony Shadid's Insatiable Curiosity

My old colleague Bobby Ghosh remembers Anthony Shadid, who sadly passed yesterday, in Syria. Bobby recalls one instance when Tony came for dinner at the TIME bureau in Iraq:


The next morning, I learned that while the rest of us were exchanging war stories, Tony had spent much of the evening chatting with our drivers and security guards, asking them about life in their neighborhoods, what their kids were studying in school, and what they were hearing from relatives in other parts of the country. Our staff marveled at his keen interest in the minutiae of their lives. Raed, our security chief, said, "He was more interested in why my son is studying than I am." 

But that was Tony's great gift: his insatiable curiosity about -- and deep empathy for -- ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His journalism was shot through with this quality, enriched by it. Yes, he interviewed heads of state and talking heads, but it was his familiarity with the lives of Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Libyans and Syrians that made him the best journalist operating in the Middle East.

Before I started writing professionally, I assumed that those qualities--deep empathy and insatiable curiosity--were essential to a career in journalism. They are not. Indeed, they are quite rare. And this is a real loss.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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