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.

Richard Harding Davis
Reporter, Harper’s, New York Journal, The Times, New York Herald, Daily Mail

Despite having a novelist for a mother, and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s managing editor for a father, Davis did not make the most auspicious of starts, being that rare thing: a reporter fired for being too well dressed. He survived, made his name covering the Johnstown Flood of 1889, and was soon the highest-paid reporter in America. He was also, especially when covering wars, one of journalism’s major descriptive talents. His story on the execution of a young Cuban rebel, ‘The Death of Rodriguez’, is one of the most anthologised pieces of reporting in newspaper history, and, from the Greek-Turkish War, he filed this little antidote to the romanticising of dead ‘heroes’:

“There was no selection of the unfittest; it seemed to be ruled by unreasoning luck…If a man happened to be standing in the line of a bullet he was killed and passed into eternity, leaving a wife and children, perhaps, to mourn him. "Father died," these children will say, "doing his duty." As a matter of fact, father died because he happened to stand up at the wrong moment, or because he turned to ask the man on his right for a match…”

These skills, when applied to novels or plays, earned him a fortune. Yet, time and again, Davis left the comforts of home and the plaudits of Broadway for life as a reporter on campaign. In 1914, aged 50, and with a new young wife pregnant with their first child, he left from the Belgian front, described the entry of the German army into Brussels as “like a river of steel”, and was arrested as a spy. Less than two years later, a week short of his 52nd birthday, Davis died from a heart attack.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press