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.

JA MacGahan
Reporter, Daily News

The man responsible for the greatest piece of reporting of all time. After having made his reputation as a fearless foreign correspondent in France, Central Asia and the Arctic (which he sailed in a wooden boat), MacGahan was contacted in 1876 by the Daily News of London. The paper had reported rumours of Turkish mercenaries massacring thousands of villagers in what is now Bulgaria, and the paper was now being challenged, by the British prime minister among others, to put up or shut up.

MacGahan was commissioned to go to the Balkans and report what he found. After days of riding and investigating and interviewing hundreds of survivors, he was able to report, with detail, precision and confidence, wholesale butchery of at least 15,000 Bulgarian men, women and children. His main story, from the remains of what was once Batak and its inhabitants, began:

“Since my letter of yesterday I have supped full of horrors…”

and continued:

“We are told that 3,000 people were lying in this little churchyard alone…There were little curly heads there in that festering mass, crushed down by heavy stones…little baby hands, stretched out as if for help…mothers who had died trying to shield their little ones with their own weak bodies, all lying there together, festering in one horrid mass. They are silent enough now. There are no tears nor cries, no weeping, no shrieks of terror, nor prayers for mercy. The harvests are rotting in the fields and the reapers are rotting here in the churchyard.”

MacGahn’s reports proved two governments to have been systematically lying, provoked worldwide outrage, and so led to the declaration of a war, the redrawing of the map of Europe, and the creation of four new nations. Bulgaria was among them, and today, more than a century and a quarter after his death at 34 from typhus, MacGahan remains a hero in that land. Journalism, however, has forgotten him.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press