That was the take-away question for me after I read Brad Wieners’ “No Way Is Matt Power Gone” tribute and report in BloombergBusinessweek earlier today.
I didn’t know Power personally, as several of my friends did, but his death was unsettling for all the obvious reasons: He was young. He wasn’t, by any accounts I’d read, interested in derring-do for derring-do’s sake, and, of course, it meant the loss of a gifted storyteller. But after reading Wieners’ piece, Power’s death felt unsettling for another reason: Unless there were underlying medical issues that no one knows about, it might have been an evitable death.
Wieners explains that Power flew from 20-degree Farenheit New York City to Uganda, where the temperature, according to a companion, was between 100 and 113 degrees. His plane landed and he hit the ground running, as most all of us who do this kind of work do. Wieners writes:
“Matt may have been a free spirit, but he paid a New York mortgage and worked hard to afford it. Reviewing Matt’s itinerary—red-eye, trans-Atlantic flight followed by a seven-hour drive to the trailhead the day of his arrival, then joining the expedition on his second day in country—I got a shiver of recognition. I’d have made the same mistake. Not just failing to give heat the respect I do altitude. Failing to give it more time. Departing from New York, where there is never a moment to lose, there’s no way I’d think to schedule an extra couple of days—much less the week Casa recommends to top athletes—to let my body adjust. No one has that kind of time.“
I had a shiver of recognition, too. I’ve left frigid, wintry New York for tropical climes–Belize, Suriname, Cuba–and have pushed on upon arrival despite feeling less than ready because, it seemed, there wasn’t any other choice. I’ve taken ridiculous, self-abusing flight itineraries because they were cheaper than the alternatives. I’ve packed my daily schedule from morning to midnight because if I’m going to the expense of on-the-ground-reporting, I want to make the most of it. Writers don’t build a rest day or two into our schedules because we can’t afford them–literally–and rare is the case where a publication is footing the bill for us to have a day or two to acclimate to a different environment. I’ve yet to meet an editor who has said, “You know what? We’re going to spring for an extra night in a decent hotel so you can get your bearings and rest before you go out and report this piece for us in top form.” In fact, I’ve yet to meet an editor who has paid expenses adequately, period.
The idea that Power didn’t have to die is one that enrages. And yet, in a publishing world that’s driven by a news cycle that’s way shorter than 24 hours and balance sheets that favor other priorities over paying for good reporting, it’s not surprising and it’s not likely to change.