As a columnist and reporter at The Boston Globe for more than 30 years, David Nyhan challenged the powerful and acted as a voice for those whose voices are seldom heard.
Bill Ketter summarized his friend’s approach to reporting best, writing:
“For David Nyhan, giving voice to the voiceless was intuitive. A product of Whiskey Point, a working class Irish neighborhood in Brookline, he wrote passionately and persuasively with a Robin Hood spirit. His columns gave clarity to the convoluted, employing robust language that informed readers no matter their station in life. And always with heart, whether his subject was the president or a precinct worker. He was truly the conscience of his community. In his farewell column in the Boston Globe, David wrote: ‘The thing I’ll miss most is the chance to shine a little flashlight on a dark corner, where a wrong was done to a powerless peon, where a scarred politician maybe deserved a better fate, where the process went awry, or the mob needed to be calmed down and herded in another direction.’”
In his eulogy, Senator Edward Kennedy said of Nyhan, “Dave was a man of amazing talent, but most of all he was a man of the people who never forgot his roots. . . . In so many ways, but especially in the daily example of his own extraordinary life, Dave was the conscience of his community.” The hallmark of Nyhan’s brand of journalism was the courage to champion unpopular causes and challenge the powerful with relentless reporting and brave eloquence.
In a lecture to Marvin Kalb’s class at Harvard in 1999, David Nyhan spoke on “Ten Things the News Media Does Right.” Here is an abbreviated list:
- We accelerate the rate of change.
- We blow the whistle on excesses of power.
- We stand up for the little guy.
- We enforce prevailing community standards on rights.
- We mobilize public support across society’s fault lines of class, race, gender and ethnicity for worthy causes.
- We are on hair-trigger alert to expose hypocrisy and cant in our political leaders.
- We are typically always ready if not perfectly willing to print or broadcast derogatory information about the powerful or famous, to challenge and probe and test the membranes of illusion by which we allow others to lead, amuse or enthrall us with their particular persuasiveness.
- We have an honorable tradition of not ratting out the people who give us information in confidence.
- We allow, under certain circumstances, communities to find their voice, and sometimes their feet.
- We profess to do public service, to be exemplars of civic virtue, to determine who among our leaders and public servants to be singled out for praise and honors. But we spawn and sow the very cynicism and apathy we deride in our high-minded editorials.
Samples of Nyhan’s work and articles about him: