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A Little More on Hugh Van Es

The eminent Mort Rosenblum wrote a wonderful tribute to both Hugh Van Es, and to the proper practice of journalism.

This should be required reading for anyone picking up a camera (or a pencil) with the hope of making the world a slightly better place.

PARIS - Nothing puts the sterile, often stupid, debate over vanishing newspapers more poignantly than a note to friends by Annie Van Es on the death of her husband, Hugh.

     Annie wrote about a man she loved for 40 years, not some abstract “media.” Yet, she concluded, “My job ahead is to make sure he will not become yesterday’s news.”

     God forbid. People like Hugh Van Es, few as they are, stand between a sensible future for the world our kids must inherit and the inevitable result of ignoring reality.

     And if this sounds like overwrought hyperbole, then what his life symbolizes is all the more crucial.

     For Hugh, news photographer and grand journalist, what mattered was not the byline but rather the heft of what came after it. 

     He knew that covering the world is a team effort, the combined work of professionals who earn each other’s trust over time and together weave a picture of textured reality.

     Hugh’s best-known photo was that United Press International picture of the last panicky helicopter evacuation from Saigon.

     He received only a $150 bonus from UPI, and he shrugged when a Vietnamese photographer claimed credit for a picture reproduced tens of thousands of times.

“He is having a hard time in Communist Saigon and needs to make a living,” Hugh told Annie. “I can’t blame him.” The two remained lifelong friends.

When Hugh suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, lifelong friends sent messages from every corner of the planet. Soon, the watch list approached 300 email addresses.

It was warming to see those old names, many of them lovable curmudgeons like Hugh, who could happily blaspheme and curse editors who didn’t get it to 15 layers of Hell.

But it was also sobering. The number of journalists who still work together to weave that crucial picture of the world is dropping at a precipitous rate.

Fresh people with new skills take their place. But deprived of trusted colleagues who share sources, seasoned editors, and expense accounts, the picture is skewed.

We get occasional flashes. But what counts most is a steady light that stays focused to illuminate backgrounds where preventable danger lurks.

      This is why Hugh Van Es, and the dwindling bunch of journalists like him, cannot be yesterday’s news.

Already, in a tightly linked world, particularly in America, many people see no difference between the real deal and glib wordage based on imagined reality.

Plenty of young people are eager to step in, but hardly anyone is hiring them. And so many citizens with so much at stake seem not to care.

The New York Post reports that the New York Times dynasty is nearing collapse, and a chorus of morons gloat. The Times, often smug, is hardly perfect. But what is left?

The other day, I visited Christopher Dickey as he emptied out Newsweek’s Paris bureau, its last in Europe, to work from home. I snagged a souvenir: a dodo.

As symbolic as dodos may be for vanishing journalists, ostriches are a better metaphor for us citizens in societies that lose their reliable sources.

Here we are, heads embedded in the sand, with fluffy butts in the air just waiting to be kicked. And there probably won’t be a Hugh Van Es around to make the picture.


Mort Rosenblum



Besides accomplishing everything that most young journalism students could ever dream of, Mort also founded DISPATCHES with VII's Gary Knight and Dr. Simba Gill.

This should also be required reading, from the NEW YORK TIMES obit...

"Mr. Van Es was dismayed that he did not receive royalties from the use of the Saigon photo, which belonged to U.P.I. The rights have since been sold twice, along with many other photos taken by the wire service’s photographers. Bill Gates, co-founder ofMicrosoft, now owns the rights to the photo through Corbis, a company he created."