For the past six months, I have been playing God; or, at least, as near to God as any journalist is likely to get. I have appointed myself editor of The Paradise Times, and have been busily selecting my staff from among every journalist who ever lived.
This apparently deranged project is research for a book called The Great Reporters which will profile the 20, all-time best.
But whom to include? Having toyed briefly with conducting a poll, I decided the best method was to imagine I was editing a paper competing against Mr Dante's Inferno Telegraph, and ask myself whom I would want covering events.
Some of the earliest recruits virtually selected themselves: Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, for instance - so useful for investigating if there's any diabolical dirty tricks going on; Nellie Bly, the young American reporter who feigned madness to get inside New York's Blackwell's Island asylum in 1887 and so exposed conditions there; and J A MacGahan, the Irish- American correspondent who revealed the Bulgarian Atrocities of 1876 and climaxed his report with: "The harvests are rotting in the fields, and the reapers are rotting here in the churchyard."
Hard, too, to omit Marguerite Higgins, the little blonde Californian who looked, and spoke, like Marilyn Monroe but was as tough as old army boots (when US officials ordered her out of Korea because she was a woman, she simply refused to go and then fought her way back in). She, the first reporter into Dachau, was the ultimate story getter, and had not the slightest scruple about begging, borrowing, stealing, or even seducing to do it. She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting.
I'll also need a couple of good hogwash-spotters. Step forward P J O'Rourke of Rolling Stone, writer of one of the neatest first paragraphs I know: "My friend Dorothy and I spent a weekend at Heritage USA, the born-again Christian resort and amusement park created by television evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. Dorothy and I came to scoff - but went away converted. Unfortunately, we were converted to Satanism." Neither do I want to do without A J Liebling, chronicler of wars and low-life for The New Yorker. He it was who, when asked how he rated himself, replied: "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write …