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Former Philadelphia Inquirer political reporter Cynthia “Cindy” Burton is retiring as a member of the paper’s editorial board on March 4th.
According to Sandra Shea, managing editor of the Inquirer’s opinions section, the environmentally-minded Burton is heading for a kayak and the “happy retirement she deserves.”
She certainly does deserve it.
But Burton’s retirement also represents a significant loss.
The tough kid from Queens could write. She had a writer’s gift. Plugged into the skill-set of reporting, which includes not only the ability to fact-gather, but the motivation of outrage and moral courage, her talent made her a prized possession to those in this state who value this work.
I certainly found it valuable.
I always read the pieces Burton wrote. I always found her coverage of political events more granular, more complex, more thoughtful, and more relevant than mine, or anyone else’s, for that matter.
There is nothing that beats a real beat reporter.
The skills that go into that job are as integral to the success of a piece as guitar, bass, voice, and drum to a song.
That’s what Burton was, to me, as a reporter. She was the one-woman REM of New Jersey political reporting. She could write in a style that I can only describe as dock front literary (guitar). She always nailed the facts (drum). There was a depth to the work (bass). And there was that sense in every piece of a writerly intelligence taking the piece somewhere (voice).
She was Patti Smith at a press conference otherwise marked for agony by the pre-ordination of cliche.
I missed reading her work back in 2011 when she transitioned out of reporting to the Inquirer’s editorial board. I always looked for her byline and when I didn’t see it for a spell I reached out to her and asked her what was going on, and she told me she wasn’t leaving, just going to a new role.
Now, she’s leaving, and I still miss her work, so much, and can only wish her well, issuing an impaled scream from no man’s land that she keep writing in retirement, because it was always my hope too that she would come back to the grind.
At the core of political reporting stands the language and everything it entails, most critically in politics, the accountability of those in power to the people.
She elevated the language here.
Every time her byline appeared in The Inquirer.
Cynthia Burton, thank you, and Godspeed.