STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin died over the weekend. He was 88. He wrote for the New York Daily News and for Newsday. The papers had screaming headlines and relatively small pages, which made them easier to turn while standing on a crowded subway train, which is how I read Breslin as a 20-something resident of New York with just enough change to buy a paper. Breslin wrote about great events by focusing on ordinary people. Long before my time, he'd covered the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. He spent the day with the man who dug Kennedy's grave, a job that paid $3.01 per hour. Breslin's main subject was New York, which is what captivated me on that rocking train.
He captured the absurdity at street level. In the 1990s, the city had overcrowded jails. It planned to move inmates into a welfare hotel whose residents were to be moved to another hotel. Breslin described a construction worker on the project who had, quote, "a working man's understanding of the pressures that develop in ordinary life when things don't get done." Sometimes Breslin verged into satire. One column featured a man who supposedly directed the Flatbush Avenue Crack Dealers Association. He was upset about schools not educating kids well enough to work for him.
One story above all captured Breslin's style of reporting. He covered a riot in Brooklyn. He was attacked by people in the street who took his money, shirt and pants. He was saved by two residents who warned away the crowd. Afterward, Breslin wrote, I had the usual few scratches. And I also happened to be not wearing any clothes. He had nothing left except his underwear, the green press card in his hand and, of course, a great story.
(SOUNDBITE OF LUDOVICO EINAUDI'S "NIGHT")
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