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PBS Ombudsman

Anthony Shadid, Reporter

It seems, these days, that we hear more about tweets than about foreign correspondence. But yesterday, American journalism, and citizens who value being informed with incisive, in-depth and courageous reporting, suffered a tragic loss with the death, on assignment in Syria, of New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid.

Shadid leaves a wife and two children. He was only 43, but he was viewed by many of his colleagues as perhaps the best American foreign correspondent of his generation. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice during his years at The Washington Post for his coverage of the war in Iraq and may well have won another this year for his extraordinary coverage of the Arab Spring uprising for the Times.

An American of Lebanese descent who spoke Arabic fluently, Shadid spent much of the last two decades covering the turmoil in the Middle East, first for the Associated Press in Cairo, then for the Boston Globe, then for the Post from 2003 until 2009, when he left for the Times.

He was, as the Times put it in a story last night about his death, "no stranger to injury, harassment and arrest." While working for the Globe in 2002, he was shot and wounded in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He was hounded by Egyptian police during the uprising in Egypt and he and two other Times colleagues were arrested and beat up by pro-government militia in Libya last year, and their driver died.

Ironically, after a too brief but brilliant career marked by danger and courage, he apparently died of an asthma attack on a daring mission inside Syria. Slipping under barbed-wire a week earlier at the Syrian border with Turkey, along with his Times colleague, photographer Tyler Hicks — also, in my book, perhaps the best news photographer of his generation — the pair were met on the Syrian side by guides on horseback. They were around horses again as they were making their way back out, and it was the proximity to the horses that appears to be what brought on the eventually fatal attack. Hicks tried to revive him but could not, and carried his body back across the border into Turkey.

Both the Times' account linked to above and an equally moving account in the Post capture the tragic end of Shadid's career far better than this short summary.

But I post this in part because PBS, to its credit, used Shadid rather extensively on television and online to help shed light, with authority and eloquence, on the often dark happenings in the region. In recent years, Shadid appeared as a guest on the PBS NewsHour, Frontline, Need to Know, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley. PBS public affairs programs generally, in my view, make good use of American journalists from other news organizations to help report and analyze breaking events.

Watch Anthony Shadid on Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East on PBS. See more from Need to Know.

The Post story today quotes Phil Bennett, the former managing editor of the Post who worked closely with Shadid — and since last year is the managing editor of Frontline — this way: "He changed the way we saw Iraq, Egypt, Syria over the last, crucial decade. There is no one to replace him."

He will be missed by countless readers who have followed and benefitted from his work for many years, and by PBS viewers who got to see him and hear him as well. And by me, as a former colleague, reader and viewer.

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