The Death of Journalism

At the height of his career, Dan Reed, a former reporter for the West County Times in Richmond, the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Jose Mercury News, embodied the image of the dogged, persistent, aggressive daily newspaper reporter.
The Concord native could handle any story you threw at him, and he was a smart, graceful, sometimes humorous writer, but he was especially good at digging out the story that no other reporter could get.

News hit this morning that Dan died at the age of 50. He had been battling a host of health problems in recent years, including alcoholism, which he wrote about for the San Jose Mercury News. He was laid off—along with other reporters and editors—from that newspaper in 2007. The Mercury News and Contra Costa Times have this obituary of him, which describes him beautifully:

Whenever Dan Reed entered a room, there was no mistaking his hulking 6-foot-4, 330-pound frame, long beard, uncombed hair and untucked shirts.

He rarely did anything quietly. But more than that, the Falstaffian Reed, with his legendary appetite for life and a ribald sense of humor, was a shoe-leathered journalist whose dogged reporting spanned more than two decades and won him many awards.

Described as the rare combination of a gifted humorist and a hard-hitting investigative reporter, Reed wrote effortlessly on almost any subject. The poignant, about the loss of his beloved mother. The hilarious, the night he spent inside an elephant cage at the Oakland Zoo. The hard-hitting, tracking down crime suspects and victims and convincing them to share their stories.

“He could write a story about Bigfoot investigators that would make you laugh out loud — and a story about gypsy con artists that would move you to outrage. Large in girth, big in personality, Dan filled our newsroom. And usually he filled it with fun,” said Bert Robinson, assistant managing editor/news at the Mercury News.

That’s the Dan I knew. No, I didn’t know him well, just professionally and casually. He was good friends and a former colleague with good friends of mine. I encountered him occasionally on big stories, back when I was a daily news reporter, and we were both covering some disaster or tragic crime for competing newspapers. Seeing him always scared me, because he was a good reporter—really good—and I was always afraid he would scoop me, which he did on one particularly big story. Of course, I hated him for scooping me. At the same time, I respected and learned from how he managed to beat me to the story.

The height of his career and powers were probably the 1990s, before the advent of the Internet, not that he couldn’t have adapted well to the New Media. After his lay-off, he did some freelancing. He actually wrote this great op-ed piece for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the piece, “Oakland’s Deadly Denial,”he astutely criticized Oakland’s power establishment, including Mayor Ron Dellums and Rep. Barbara Lee, for coddling “the small band of thugs” running Your Black Muslim Bakery, whose members have been implicated in the death of reporter Chauncey Bailey, among a host of other violent crimes.

But after his lay-off, he also struggled with his health problems and his private demons, so his friends have told me. His struggles saddened me. He could be a pain in the you-know-what, but he was also tremendously gifted, and it’s such a loss to the Bay Area journalism world that he is gone. Somehow I see his death representing something that we’ve all lost in this strange new world we’re all living in, when daily newspapers and other print media are laying people off right and left, losing money, ad revenues, and readers, and shutting down operations.

Rest in peace, Dan.  Even though I didn’t know you well, I’ll miss you, and my condolences to all who did know him well and love him. 

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