George Orwell: An Example of Devotion and Daring in Journalism
When deciding on my favorite journalist of all time, I had to think hard, moving past the groomed hair and neckties of Fox and MSNBC to men and women who wrap their lives around the subject they cover until the two things became indistinguishable.
To be honest, there are too many journalists and photojournalists that I love and respect to list. But the one that absolutely stands out to me as my favorite is a man who was actually more famous for the fiction that he wrote; George Orwell. Many people are familiar with his novels "1984" and "Animal Farm" whether they are fans, or they were forced to read at least one of them in high school, but in many ways his more compelling and accomplished work came in the form of journalism.
Orwell was born Eric Blair in 1903 during the British colonization of India. There, he spent time working for the imperial police in Burma before he left to become a writer. After that it was on to Paris and London where he worked menial jobs and eventually yielded the allegedly fictitious "Down and Out in Paris and London".
The thing that I love about Orwell's work as a journalist was how willing he was to go beyond what was asked of him and to act on what he thought was right with extreme devotion. For example, in the 1930s the Left Book club, which was a socialist organization in England, sent Orwell to cover poverty and unemployment in industrial Northern England. Once he got there, however, it was Orwell who decided to go even farther, he wanted to know more about what the actual employment situation was like for coal miners in the area, so he became one. He lived in substandard housing, ate pitiful foods, and most importantly got up every day to go work in the mines just like everyone else did. A full account of his investigation became "The Road to Wigan Pier".
But all of that was nothing compared to what he did when he was sent to cover the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Instead of sitting back and watching both sides butcher each other, Orwell found that he had similar beliefs and supported the fight against the fascists. Many people would have just written a severely slanted article, but Orwell joined the ranks as a member of the Workers Party of Marxist Unity or POUM. He then fought in trench warfare until he was shot in the throat and his party was overthrown, forcing him to flee the country for his life. Eventually this harrowing experience turned into the autobiographical "Homage to Catalonia".
After this, Orwell would show off his versatility by writing books and play reviews for local English periodicals, until he was able to find work with the efforts of World War II first with the Home Guard, and then with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Put simply, Orwell was the kind of kid in class that everyone hates, overachieving and putting forth effort like a locomotive. But his form of overachievement involved living in poverty, coal mining, and most impressively trench warfare. Not only was he a gifted writer who put out two of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, but he was also a man of great determination, dedication, and passion, who took journalism to its most dangerous limits.