David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

Floyd Gibbons
Reporter, Chicago Tribune

The supreme example of the amoral reporter in pursuit of an assignment. To beat the opposition, he had no second’s thought about breaking the law, taking an axe to a telegraph line, defying a city fire brigade, booking himself onto a ship likely to be sunk by the Germans so he could report its torpedoing, out-bluffing the leadership of the Soviet Union, and sporting medals from dog shows to impersonate a war hero. He survived nine wars, two air crashes, a major shipwreck, being shot at by seven different armies, being bombed by four air forces, and encounters with less formal threats such as Pancho Villa and his desperados, and the Japanese secret service. And all this, for the most part, equipped with only one eye, the other one being sacrificed when he was 31 in pursuit of yet another exclusive.

And he could write. After wangling his way into Russia to become the first Westerner to witness the Great Famine of 1921, his story included the following: “A boy of 12 with a face of sixty was carrying a six-month-old infant wrapped in a filthy bundle of furs. He deposited the baby under a freight car, crawled after him and drew from his pocket some dried fish-heads, which he chewed ravenously and then, bringing the baby’s lips to his, transferred the sticky white paste of half-masticated fish-scales and bones to the infant’s mouth as a mother bird feeds her young.”

When Gibbons got to the local telegraph station, he saw that the keyboard used to transmit messages had, naturally enough, only Cyrillic letters. He had to write out his report again, changing each Latin letter to its nearest local equivalent. So, in this hybrid language, was his report transmitted to Moscow where a colleague translated it and despatched it Chicagowards. Once again, Gibbons got the story out.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press