News of the death of 33-year-old Michael Hastings in a fiery car crash June 18 has left everyone who knew him stunned. And it’s also left a giant hole in the heart of Real Journalism. Hastings was a Real Journalist.
I never knew Michael Hastings. But a few years ago, when we were both contributing to the late lamented True/Slant.com, he sent me a comment on something I’d written. That led me to check out what he was writing, which left me in the dust within a very few minutes. For a storyteller like me to get an affirmative nod from a journalist like Hastings felt like sort of a large gold star.
This is not to knock storytelling, which I consider one top way to convey truth (especially about difficult topics like death-and-dying or abortion.) Storytelling is broadband, real journalism is specific and it is a rare and precious thing.
Real journalism is fearless, aggressive, relentless and uncorruptible. When practiced by people like Michael Hastings it lets the rest of us know what is really happening in our democracy — which is the only way a democracy survives.
Former True/Slant now New York Times editor Michael Roston summed up the best advice to aspiring journalists who survive Hastings: “Try to be like him.”