REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid died in Syria on Thursday, apparently of an asthma attack. His loss was particularly painful here in Beirut, where many of the correspondents who knew him are based. The feeling was: We lost one of the very best of us.
Reporters and other people who knew Shadid well shared their remembrances of him after the news spread. Jim Muir of the BBC wrote this email to his colleagues:
In our ego-plagued profession Anthony was a person of quiet accomplishment and courage, with a profound sympathy and feeling for the region and a rare elegance and insight in his writings. He will be terribly missed as a colleague and a wonderful human being. We are all in shock.
Peter Bouckaert, emergency director at Human Rights Watch, wrote this via Facebook from New York:
There are many great journalists and many great human beings, but it isn't easy to be both. Anthony, you showed us the way. You will be so very much missed, can't believe we were together just two weeks ago. ... [Shadid showed] that we can cover war with empathy, and that even the top dog in the business can care about the green newcomer who is covering their first war. That we can be nice, good and interesting people while doing a difficult job. He does deserve a statue somewhere, and not just for his reporting.
Ben Gilbert, a radio correspondent based in Beirut, recalls Shadid’s attention to details:
On May 21, 2008, the day the sit-in ended in downtown Beirut, I saw Anthony near Buddha Bar, wandering among the half-deconstructed tents and their jubilant former occupants. He had notebook in hand, as usual. Watching. Writing.
We walked into a parking lot that had, just a few hours before, been part of the tent city for more than a year.
I was thinking big picture. "What does this mean?"
He was looking at the details.
"Is that corn?" Anthony asked, noticing a traffic island that divided the parking entrance from the exit. "It is!" he said, smiling. He was clearly amused with this discovery. Other plants stood near the corn. "And that's hummus and mint and basil," he said, with a gardener's eye.
Hezbollah members had been occupying downtown so long they had planted gardens in the tiny patches of green they could find among the sea of concrete. I was walking right by this little golden nugget of detail, oblivious.
We parted ways after a little catching up. I saw him a short time later. He had been hanging out with a few opposition guys off to the side of the former protest for a half hour, chatting in Arabic. ... "They had some great things to say," he said.
He used all of it in the next day's story.
In my opinion, Anthony was one of the best reporters to work this beat, ever. I am honored to have bumped into him in Baghdad, Cairo and Beirut, and to have seen him in action. He was someone I looked up to. He established a standard that all reporters in the Arab world should aspire to: a deep knowledge of the language, people and politics, and a desire to explain a very complicated place to the rest of the world, often in allotments of fewer than 1,200 words.
He was courageous, easygoing and a brilliant writer. It's a loss for so many on so many levels. RIP Anthony. Nada, I'm so sorry for your loss.
Remco Andersen, a young Middle East correspondent for the Dutch daily De Volkskrant, said he remembered the first and only time he met Shadid:
I walked past him while he was writing in the Radisson canteen in Tripoli. He seemed happy doing it, tapping with his foot on the floor in the same rhythm as his fingers on the keyboard. I was stressed on a deadline and a little jealous of this wildly experienced guy who seemed to be enjoying himself on his deadline, while I had a knot in my stomach. I asked him how long he took to write a story, "Two hours writing, one hour outlining," he replied happily. Since then, when I get stuck, I sometimes see that image. Two hours. And enjoy it. You're telling a story. That is what I tell myself.
Friday in Beirut, journalists were meeting to have a drink for Anthony, to remember him and his work. Surely more will meet later in Tripoli, Benghazi, Cairo, Baghdad, around Homs, and Sana, the cities he visited and wrote about.
RIP from Beirut.
-- Rima Marrouch
Photo: Anthony Shadid takes notes outside the office of Iraq's Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, south of Baghdad, in 2003. Credit: Washington Post