It may seem schmaltzy to pick two legends instead of the hipper, edgier batch of journalists working right now. So be it. I learned as much from Halberstam and Mailer as from anyone else who excelled this year.
Halberstam and Mailer produced remarkable work that lives on. Equally as important, though, each accomplished feats that stand out. They inspired me and many others to be adventurous, ambitious journalists.
It isn't as if a few figures didn't distinguish themselves in the past 12 months; if you follow the news flow, you know the names and have your own favorites. I'm happy to remember two of my mine in this column.
Halberstam was unique. You could open any of his books to a random page and find a terrific anecdote, a telling quote or spot-on analysis.
I've done this often over the years with some of my favorite Halberstam volumes, such as "The Powers That Be," "The Breaks of the Game" and "Playing for Keeps."
I can't think of a journalist who wrote better stuff about people or connected the dots more adeptly to the larger social issues. Even if he hadn't written "The Best and the Brightest," his landmark work that described the origins of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, he'd still be a legend.
His earlier reporting for the New York Times in the early 1960s exposed the miscalculations of the Kennedy White House in Vietnam. (Halberstam, ever loyal, was always quick to credit such colleagues as Neil Sheehan of the Associated Press with breaking open the story.)
Bob Dylan once said that one of the reasons he admired Woody Guthrie was because his folk-music role model did more than write and sing great songs. To Dylan, Guthrie's body of work could give people a blueprint on how they could live their lives.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about Halberstam. On the occasions when I interviewed him about some of his books, he couldn't have shown a greater generosity of spirit. I felt honored that he knew my name and called me "pal." I can't think of any other journalist who held colleagues in such regard.
What a career he had. When Halberstam graduated from Harvard in the mid-1950s, he took his first job at the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Miss. He said that he hadn't had a lot of experience in talking with and interviewing people outside of his New York-Cambridge, Mass., sphere and wanted to gain perspective. He also sensed the importance of the coming civil-rights revolution in the United States.
Halberstam's last book, "The Coldest Winter," about the Korean War, was published posthumously three months ago.
He was killed at the age of 74 in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, Calif., not far from San Francisco. He was the passenger in the car and on his way to interview former star quarterback Y.A. Tittle for a book about the fabled 1958 National Football League championship game, in which the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants in overtime and helped establish professional football as a dominant spectator sport.
Unfortunately, we'll never see that book. I wish I could've read it.
Mailer was another mythic figure. He basically invented "the new journalism."
Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and many others received a lot of publicity, but Mailer's landmark book "The Armies of the Night" -- about the 1967 March on the Pentagon, at the height of the Vietnam War protests -- expressed history as a novel and vice versa better than anything I've ever read.
Mailer, 84, was an acclaimed novelist, of course, a true double literary threat. To me, he'll always be a journalist first because of the example he set in his reporting and writing. He blazed a path, and that's hard to do.
He continued to refine his vision of a "new journalism"in such books of varied subjects as "Miami and the Siege of Chicago," about the 1968 presidential conventions, and "The Fight."
If you've never read "The Fight," get a copy. It is a hoot and a piece of remarkable reporting, encompassing Mailer's observations on the scene in Zaire during Muhammad Ali's remarkable upset of George Foreman in 1974. The sports world was stunned when Ali reclaimed the heavyweight championship of the world, and Mailer told them exactly how he did it.
R.I.P., fellas. Your good work lives on.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who's on your list for 2007 Journalist of the Year?
WEDNESDAY PET PEEVE: Arianna Huffington's explanation seemed insufficient after her HuffingtonPost.com was scammed. A prankster spread a story saying Donald Trump had left a $10,000 tip. The Los Angeles Times and the Romenesko Web site noted that Huffington said it "fit the Trump M.O. of tireless self-promotion." I'm no fan of Trump, but taking such a gratuitous jab at a blowhard public figure, after your company has made a goof, seems inappropriate.
THE READERS RESPOND to my column calling for an end to the practice of identifying deranged people, like the gunman who killed eight people in a Nebraska shopping mall: "I agree with you completely that the names of these unfortunate misfits in society should not be immortalized in the media. Maybe if they saw that they would get no recognition, they would stop this horrible waste of innocent life." Lois Seidel
"I totally agree with your objection to all the publicity, but humans have an insatiable appetite for violence. We seem to be hard-wired to be voyeurs of the most awful gore and suffering." Jane Schneck
"Congratulations on your media-hypocrisy article of Dec. 7. ... I'm 62 and I don't know of a profession that has seen a greater decline in respect over my lifetime than the media. They continue to slide down the list and are fast approaching used-car salesmen, pimps and lawyers. They passed our elected officials some time ago." Gene Chojnacki
It should be noted that not everyone agreed with me. Ruben Rosario of TwinCities.com in Minnesota offers an articulate, opposing point of view.
Media Web, which is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, will next appear on Dec. 19. Feel free to send email to
By Jon Friedman