October 22, 2021

Event Coverage Highlight

Colleagues Celebrate Christopher Dickey’s Insight and Legacy as Editor and Mentor

Clockwise from upper left: Mark Whitaker, Barbie Latza Nadeau, John Avlon and Peter Turnley.

Deep, thoughtful, curious and insatiably alive were words colleagues used to describe Christopher Dickey when asked to summarize his essence as a journalist and friend during a panel to honor his life and career on Sept. 23. The legendary foreign correspondent died of a heart attack in July 2020 in Paris at the age of 68.

The OPC and Photoville hosted an online panel to discuss Dickey’s career and friendship with former editor of Newsweek Mark Whitaker, journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau, photographer Peter Turnley, and CNN political analyst John Avlon serving as moderator.

“Chris had an uncanny way of discovering how the levers of power worked, and then holding accountable those who wielded it,” Avlon said during an introduction.

The OPC hosted the panel in conjunction with a Photoville exhibit of his photographs at Brooklyn Bridge Park that will continue through Dec. 1.

The panelists each shared anecdotes from Dickey’s career, including harrowing attempts to enter Iran without visas to cover an earthquake, visits to a whiskey bar in Baghdad, covering momentous news stories in the Middle East and North Africa, the deaths of Princess Diana and Pope John Paul II, and the 9/11 attacks and their reverberations around the world.

Turnley, an award-winning photographer who has worked in more than 90 countries over 4 decades, met Dickey in 1986 and worked with him for many years at Newsweek from Paris.

“He was a beautiful photographer,” Turnley said. “Chris felt very liberated photographing, and I think he loved the fact that it was something that he was doing for himself, that it wasn’t related to journalism. It was almost a form of poetic expression.”

The panelists lauded Dickey’s sophisticated tastes in food, clothes and art, which he cultivated while still appreciating simple joys. “Chris represented grandeur in all ways. He was an absolutely beautiful, elegant person. But he was absolutely unpretentious,” Turnley said.

Dickey’s reporting philosophy was an extension of this humility, his colleagues said. Nadeau, former Rome bureau chief for Newsweek now a CNN contributor and correspondent for The Daily Beast, said while he always kept a Rolodex full of deep, high-level sources on the many stories he covered, he also had a knack for finding insight on the ground level.

“One of the things that’s been the most valuable to me that I learned very early on from him is that getting the spokesperson or the secretary of state is very important, but you’re probably going to get a lot more from the taxi driver, from the administrative assistant, from the hotel clerk or someone like that is probably going to give you at least as much of a lead.”

Whitaker, who spent three decades as a reporter, writer, and editor for Newsweek, said Dickey’s sensibility translated to his writing. “Chris always wrote with incredible grace but he never strained,” he said.

Dickey was a dedicated mentor to many reporters over the years and maintained long relationships with those he taught.

“Honestly, I always got the feeling that as much as he loved traveling the globe and all of his other interests, he really liked [mentoring] more than anything,” Whitaker said. “It showed a great deal of generosity but it also showed a kind of existential thing about Chris that I greatly admired, which is that he was always alert to the new.”