The Death and Life of Sydney Schanberg … Reflections on one of the greatest reporters of a generation.

Very few magazine pieces live with you forever: you can pick them up three and half decades later, and they still make you feel the same way as when you first read them. “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” by Sydney Schanberg, published in The New York Times Magazine on January 20, 1980, was a piece like that.

I re-read it recently because Schanberg died last weekend at 82, after a massive heart attack. A pro till the end, he had expired very early Saturday morning—the timing we all used to say we wished for, to insure a full run for the obituary in the Sunday print edition of the Times, the one that still has the largest circulation.

When I first saw that magazine piece in 1980, I had just quit the Times after eight years on the metropolitan desk. Schanberg, who was then the Metro chief, had been my boss, and our parting had not been a happy one. But the article reminded me, and everyone else who read it, of what made so many of us fall in love with him in the first place: his passion, his humanity, and his amazing prose.

There are only a handful of larger-than-life personalities in every generation of journalism. Back then, there were people like R.W. (Johnny) Apple, Michael Herr, Seymour Hersh, and Molly Ivins. But Schanberg and Ivins were the only ones I knew whose generosity was always as large as their ambition. Schanberg exuded electricity. He lit up every room he walked into. If you were a general or a politician, he could be a fearful presence. But if you were a fellow reporter, there was a warmth and an eagerness to help that were always astonishing.

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