Features of the Year

By Astor, Dave | Editor & Publisher, November 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

Features of the Year


Astor, Dave, Editor & Publisher


Our annual salute to top creators finds that it was a year of writing (and drawing) dangerously

E&P chose four people in 2001 and four in 2002 for creating "Features of the Year." But with hundreds of syndicated people out there, a lot of talented ones weren't getting their due. So, this year, we're expanding the pool to cite a larger number of opinion columnists, comic creators, editorial cartoonists, and others who have had a notable 2003.

Some distinguished themselves with work focusing on the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the war itself, and the bloody aftermath continuing to this day. One columnist, Michael Kelly of the Washington Post Writers Group, died in April while covering the war as an embedded journalist. Another, David Ignatius of The Washington Post and WPWG, was unembedded as he filed absorbing pieces from the war zone.

Ignatius, whose column clientele tripled from 15 to 45 newspapers since he entered syndication in January, continues to periodically write from Iraq and other countries in that region. He has spent four of the past 11 months in the Arab world, and was in Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel on Oct. 26 when the building was hit by rocket fire that missed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. A U.S. soldier was killed seven doors down from Ignatius' room.

"It was a shock, but it's not the first time I've been in a situation like that," Ignatius says in a phone interview from his Paris office. "It happens so fast you don't have time to be scared. As long as you're getting something for the risk, you can justify it."

In this case, traveling to Iraq with Wolfowitz gave Ignatius the opportunity to learn more about a man highly praised by many conservatives and sharply criticized by many others as an architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

Despite the talk of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, Ignatius says the Bush administration's "only coherent rationale for the war is an idealistic one" -- toppling the tyrannical Saddam Hussein and creating "the possibility of a democratic future." The columnist adds that when he traveled to Iraq earlier this fall, he found conditions there better than many media reports indicated -- and heard a number of Iraqis say they want the U.S. to stay. But Ignatius questions how much of a plan the Bush administration had for the invasion's aftermath, and says the media should have asked tougher questions about that before the war began.

Ignatius first reported from the Middle East in 1980, and has returned frequently since. "It's a part of the world I feel passionately about," says the former International Herald Tribune executive editor and author of five novels. "I like Arab culture, and have a number of Arab friends who really matter to me. It's not a region you can cover from a distance. Every time I go there, I learn something that surprises me."

Illustrating the issue

With photos and stories pouring out of Iraq, a Detroit Free Press duo tried something different -- drawings and stories. Artist Richard Johnson and reporter Jeff Seidel traveled to the war zone to do illustrated features about American soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and others. Their three months of human- interest reports were syndicated by Knight Ridder/Tribune and then collected in the July-published Portraits of War book.

Says Seidel: "The whole point of the project was to tell this humongous story about going to war through stories about individuals."

Johnson worked in black and white for the stark effect and because he had to keep things simple while doing multiple daily sketches under very difficult conditions. He drew some of his evocative illustrations from life, some from photos, and some from memory. A major difference between camera and pencil? "Photography captures everything," Johnson says. "With sketching, I can choose which part to give more detail."

Months after returning to the U. …

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