Today, on the second anniversary of the death of my Dad, Neal Peirce, I keep thinking about how he was always home for the holidays — and how this stood in contrast to the rest of the year, when he was always on the road.
As a kid, the sight of Dad’s leather suitcase propped open on his green bedspread made my shoulders slump. He was leaving again — by plane, by train, by something — gone for two weeks, a month, or more.
Where to? What could be so interesting?
The summer I turned 9, I found out. That’s when he took us with him to Appalachia, where he was deep into research for his 8-book series on the “people, power, and politics” of the United States.
After splashing in the motel pool with my sister, I’d flop down to dry off–-and overhear the recordings of interviews Dad was transcribing into his long yellow legal pads. They were the voices of local civic leaders and came in so many textures. Soft. Gravely. Young. Old. Animated. Mournful. Urgent. Resigned. Insistent. He’d stop and rewind the tape recorder now and then, to confirm a turn of phrase, or highlight a section.
For me, it was a revelation. This is why he’s always leaving home. To talk to people!
In his many decades as a book author, columnist, and public speaker, Dad interviewed folks in every state and location imaginable, from coffee shops to front stoops, courthouses to public parks. It was how he read the pulse of a community.
His focus shifted — eventually he zeroed in on cities as a passion, and became known as the only journalist covering local government and regions from a national perspective. He raked the country’s grassroots for stories of the people and policies that helped places succeed — and spread what he learned through his nationally syndicated column. Throughout, he remained in motion and traveling the country.
Today, more than ever, we need these on-the-ground stories — and truths — shared in an honest and vibrant way. Yet they’re at risk as struggling newspapers and other media organizations squeeze their travel budgets tighter and tighter.
To fill this need, The Neal Peirce Foundation offers journalists travel grants to head out across the country and report on stories of how cities can work better for all their people.
We recently announced the recipients of our first three grants, journalists who are going out on the road just as Dad always did.
Working together, we can send even more journalists out on the road in 2022, and in the years ahead. A gift of $1,500 makes one additional story happen. And gifts of any amount show you support the kind of journalism Dad made a career of practicing.