A Must-Have Field Guide for Journalists

Little Bunch of Madmen, written by OPC member Mort Rosenblum, is a field guide for correspondents and a manual for anyone who wants to follow world news. The second half of the title Elements of Global Reporting explains what it takes to get an international story and it equips readers, viewers and listeners to understand real news.

Rosenblum says, “This is the manual I wish I’d had back in the 1960s when I was dropped into the Congolese mayhem, clueless, sleepless and scared witless. It’s also the primer I wish people back home could have had at hand to understand what they were reading and watching.”

The title comes from a phrase by H.R. Knickerbocker: “Whenever you see hundreds of thousands of sane people trying to get out of a place, and a little bunch of madmen struggling to get in, you know the latter are newspapermen.”

If there is one thing that committed reporters insist on is being there, witnessing the events, asking the questions and then putting the story into a cogent narrative for the audience to understand. In the era of the internet so often stories are written from afar; they are aggregated from several reporting sources and then are passed off as news.

Editors offer interactive feedback. Russia invades Poland: what’s your opinion? Opinion is trumping news. The audience is caught in a trap of no-nothingness. Opinion is good; facts are difficult. Shouting trumps sane discussion and exchange of ideas.

Just reading the first paragraph in Rosenblum’s book gives you the flavor of his style of writing, his humor, but also his serious intent in making a point:

“Back in the proto-technology days, when foreign correspondents spent weeks out of touch with their desks, I asked friends what advice editors had offered them as they head out on their first assignment. Bob Sullivan, as a kid off to an ugly war taking shape in Vietnam for United Press International, went to a promising source, his foreign editor, a gravelly voiced, gray-haired legend named Walter Logan, (who) had been everywhere. “Cotton underwear,” Logan told him. “Nylon clings in the tropics.”

Good advice is still good advice, but where to gather this valuable information has changed. Editors rarely leave their desks. Reporters often have no watering hole to gather information from other more seasoned journalists. How to cross cultural bridges, how to find the human context that underpins good reporting, how to get to the core knowledge is just as essential as the right underwear.

Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker praises the book: “A rare blend of great storytelling and pure wisdom, Little Bunch of Madmen is the best thing yet written about the state of modern journalism by one of its few true living masters, and every reporter working today should go out and buy it and read it.”

Rosenblum’s passion for reporting is infectious. Rosenblum joined the AP in 1965 and has run AP bureaus in Kinshasa, Lagos, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore, Buenos Aires and Paris. He was editor of the International Herald Tribune from 1979 to 1981, but then returned to the AP as Special Correspondent, based in Paris. Mort left AP in 2004 and launched Dispatches, a topical quarterly magazine. He is a Professor of Journalism at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Interlocutor Victor Navasky is Professor in Magazine Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, but he is best known as the editor of The Nation from 1978 until 1995 when he became the publisher emeritus.

Photo: Gary Knight

The Little Bunch of Madmen Book Night will take place at Club
Quarters, 40 West 45 Street on Wednesday, November 3. Reception begins
at 6 p.m. with Talk at 6:30 p.m. Interlocutor is Victor Navasky.