Sydney H. Schanberg, an internationally known journalist, has written extensively on foreign affairs – particularly Asia – and on domestic issues such as ethics, racial problems, government secrecy, corporate excesses and the weaknesses of the national media.
Most of his nearly 50 years in journalism have been spent on newspapers but his award-winning work has also appeared widely in other publications and media. The movie, “The Killing Fields,” which won several Academy Awards, was based on his book, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” – a memoir of his experiences covering the war in Cambodia for The New York Times and of his relationship with his Cambodian colleague, Dith Pran. For his coverage of the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Schanberg was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting “at great risk.” He is also the recipient of many other journalism awards – including two George Polk awards, two Overseas Press Club awards and the Sigma Delta Chi prize for distinguished journalism.
Schanberg’s first journalism job came after college and a two-year stint in the army. The New York Times hired him in 1959 as a copy boy and he spent the next 26 years there. After rising through the clerical ranks to the reporting staff and doing local and national news for eight years, he was posted overseas – first to New Delhi, where his reporting included the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. In 1973 he moved to Singapore from which he covered all of Southeast Asia, but primarily Cambodia and Vietnam.
In 1975, he was one of a handful of Western correspondents to witness the collapse of Cambodia. In the final days he filed dozens of stories from Phnom Penh about the advancing communist army and the rising anxiety in the capital where food was short and the few hospitals overflowed with the wounded. After interning the Westerners for two weeks, the Khmer Rouge removed them from Cambodia in a truck convoy to Thailand, where Schanberg wrote a lengthy account of the barbaric takeover.
Soon after, Schanberg returned to The Times’ home office to become the Metropolitan Editor and, later, a columnist on the opinion page. In 1986, he left The Times to write his column for Newsday, which had decided to expand into New York City. There he wrote on a range of subjects, from police corruption and real estate scandals to the press’s invasions of privacy and the fate of American POWs still missing in Vietnam.
After a decade at Newsday, Schanberg departed to work on his own projects. He lectures, usually on the press, and writes in-depth news articles, including a Life magazine piece on child labor in the third world that led to reforms by Nike and other multinational companies in their overseas factories.
To better understand the world of the Internet, he spent a year (1999-2000) as investigations editor for APBNews.com, a website that won several press awards for aggressive pursuit of government records and other exclusive stories. APB also developed radio and television capabilities before it went into bankruptcy in August 2000 in a wave of dot.com financial failures. Most recently, he spent three years at The Village Voice, writing long-form news reports and press criticism as the paper’s Press Clips columnist.
His work has been reprinted in many anthologies and journalism textbooks. In 2002, he taught journalism at the New Paltz campus of the State University of New York, as the first fellow appointed to the James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship.
Schanberg was born on January 17, 1934 in Clinton, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard College, graduating with a B.A. in government in 1955. He lives in New York City with his wife, Jane Freiman, an editor and writer. He has two daughters by a previous marriage – Jessica and Rebecca.
The silent treatment regarding Vietnam POWs
COMMENTARY | October 15, 2008
Sydney Schanberg has been trying for many years to get the press to look into the fate of American POWs who weren’t accounted for at the end of the Vietnam war. He says John McCain has played a central role in suppression of government files—but even that’s not enough to get reporters or editors interested.
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