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First Time at Bat

By Nancy Wright Beasley

David Halberstam
David Halberstam
I entered the president’s ballroom on this, my introductory visit to the Nieman Narrative Conference, not sure what to expect. David Halberstam, one of my best friend’s idols, was to give the opening keynote address. “You lucky dog,” my friend, a baseball fanatic, had said. “I’d give anything to go with you. Just remember everything he says, especially about baseball,” she added.

I was early, but Halberstam was already in place, sitting just a few feet from the podium with Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. I sat down a few feet from the two men still hearing my friend’s admonition ringing in my ears.

Several minutes passed while I struggled with whether I could, or whether I dared, approach him. My mother always said, “Nothing beats a failure but a try, so I decided to try. I slipped from my seat and knelt on one knee beside Halberstam. He leaned his left ear slightly toward me.

“My best friend so admires your work,” I began, “especially about baseball. I just had to tell you hello for her. She won’t believe I’ve had the chance to meet you.”

“Well,” he said, “let’s write something for her. Do you have any paper?”

Surprised at his request, I held up two empty hands.

Halberstam quickly rifled through the manila folder on his lap and found a half-size sheet of Nieman Foundation stationery with a message that began, “Dear David Halberstam. Welcome to Cambridge and to the Nieman Conference…”

“This is my schedule for while I’m here,” he said. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Barbara Irby,” I replied.

With a swift few strokes, he wrote, “Dear Barbara. Wish you were here. Best, David Halberstam.”

The conference hadn’t even begun, and I had already scored a home run.

Nancy Wright Beasley is a freelance writer and adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications.

Posted in sessions.Keynote: The Pleasures of What We Do, speakers.David Halberstam, working with editors & reporters on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink