Lost in the confusion and pain over the death of Brooklyn’s premiere blogger Robert Guskind last Wednesday at age 50 is something important to this old-media scrooge:
He was a great journalist.
In an age of hourly deadlines and rapidly evolving media where reporting typically means merely linking to someone else’s story or posting a city agency’s press release, Guskind’s Gowanus Lounge Web site was a wondrous mix of well-reported stories, lightning-fast updates, humorous asides and, yes, angry tirades against those who threatened Brooklyn’s uniqueness.
He was a one-man assignment desk for every young journalist in the city.
When we heard about his death, we did what Bob would’ve wanted us to do: we put aside our emotions and reported the story about his sad end.
Sad because reporting like Guskind’s — real street reporting coupled with vibrant writing and institutional vigilance — touches readers, who connect with newspapers and Web sites that have a hand-made feel.
Where some reporters labor under the false impression that earnestness is the same as objectivity, Guskind pierced his targets with rapier precision.
His headline on the relatively minor news this week that the state had decided to end its closure of East River State Park poked fun at the bureaucrats’ press release touting that the reopening one month early was arranged “just in time” for the warmer weather.
“A Small Victory for Frostbite,” Guskind wrote, parodying the press release. “East River State Park Reopening Tomorrow!!!”
Similarly, the new Richard Meier building on Grand Army Plaza was not merely “the new Richard Meier building on Grand Army Plaza,” but “Richard Meier’s bird-killer” after he reported on residents’ complaints that the glass-walled tower was a bird magnet.
And so the Decora, a building on North 10 Street in Williamsburg, was not merely a nondescript condo, but the “green bathroom tile building.”
And a windowless building on Bond Street became “the bunker on Bond.”
It’s no wonder that last week, the Internet was filled with tributes to Guskind from an amazing cross section of Brooklynites — new and old, journalists and readers — who appreciated what he did.
Many of his fellow bloggers, and even fewer of his readers, ever met him, but he made them feel at home.
“I never met Bob, but he was a friend to me whose kindness I will never forget his kindness,” Deborah Matlack from Bay Ridge posted on The Brooklyn Paper’s condolence page. “Not only did he cover all the news regarding the overdevelopment of our beloved borough, he impressed me most of all with his heart for animals. And don’t forget all the street couches!”
Louise Crawford at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn added that she was always “amazed at the scope of Bob’s reporting” given his day job at a community newspaper in New Jersey and a freelance job with Curbed.
“I wondered, [how] did he have the time for all the top-notch reporting?”
We all did; the guy was everywhere at once — photographing a broken bike chained to a tree in Williamsburg, covering public hearings in Coney Island, meeting us for a few laughs and a drink at Brook-vin in Park Slope.
His relentless pursuit of the truth contributed to a crushing stress he was feeling at the end of his life. Last month, after the Jewish Forward ran a story suggesting that the Park Slope Food Co-op planned to ban Israeli-made or -grown products, Guskind posted a brief story about the Forward piece — a re-blog, if you will.
At the time, I knew the Forward piece was wrong, but didn’t begrudge Guskind his post. As a journalist, he knew that even the mere mention of an Israel ban would be big news.
But the problem was that the story was false. No ban was being considered. Though Guskind hadn’t made a mistake — he merely reported what the Forward reported — he was dogged by a deep feeling that he had let down his readers.
“He was incredibly upset that he re-blogged that Forward piece,” one of his contributors, Jack Szwergold, told me. “I told him that it was not his fault, but part of his response to me was “I feel like s—t about that whole thing. I take no pleasure in drawing attention to a bulls— story. And it is my fault.”
It wasn’t his fault. He was a journalist. It’s not something you can turn off. — Gersh Kuntzman