(Sayle in Nepal, 1971. Credit: John Cleare/Mountain Camera Picture Library)
A nice obit in the New York Times today for Murray Sayle, and a kick in the pants to us journalists to work a little harder to get the story.
He reported on an ascent of Mount Everest by joining the expedition. He reported on a trans-Atlantic race for solo sailors by entering it. He chartered a plane to locate the yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester as Sir Francis sailed around Cape Horn in his attempt to be the first solo circumnavigator of the globe. He tramped into the Bolivian jungle in search of the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, and he found Kim Philby, the British agent who had defected to the Soviet Union, in Moscow.
Well, gee! I reported on the change of operators of Clifton's Cafeteria by going to Clifton's!
One of his oft-cited journalistic principles, certainly a carryover from his early days on Fleet Street, is that there are, really, only two stories: “We name the guilty man” and “Arrow points to defective part.”
This is probably a little simplistic, and it doesn't explain obituaries (is he guilty or defective?), but it kinda holds. Bell's corruption falls in the former category, and the LAUSD's teacher teasting stories might fall in the latter. But does it account for his long article in The New Yorker showing that the Japanese didn't surrender because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because they preferred to surrender to the US than the approaching Soviets?
One thing more to know about Sayle, who was 84 when he died (emphasis mine):
Mr. Sayle resigned from The Times in 1972 after it refused to publish his account of Bloody Sunday, the killings of 14 unarmed civil rights demonstrators by British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland. Mr. Sayle reported that the soldiers had not been fired upon by the demonstrators.