A really good journalist died Thanksgiving week. She wasn’t on your favorite TV news channel. She didn’t prognosticate on election night about what the early vote in Cuyahoga County meant. You’ve likely never heard of her – which is actually the point of grounded, essential journalism. The story, told with balance yet persistence, is all that matters.
DeeAnn Divis, who was president of the D.C. Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the time of her death, died on Nov. 22 at age 62 after a few months’ illness. Born in Nebraska, where much of her family still lives, Divis had that rooted common sense so prevalent in Midwesterners. She knew what was what, and could easily see through pretension and spin.
A former investigative reporter for the Washington Examiner, Divis knew how to get the story. She was a mentor to me, and offered useful, creative advice on how to unearth information on important stories when you seemed to be at a dead end. Her advice helped guide some of our investigative work at the Times. And no, I won’t share her secrets.
She was foremost a science writer, with a particular passion for the technology of space, and was surely one of the only women to excel in this realm of journalism. According to her obituary, which can be read in full at www.mckownfuneralhome.com/obituary/dee-divis, she was an expert in Global Positioning Systems and other position, navigation and timing systems. She had excitedly put together a fascinating panel on the use of drones in journalism for the SPJ national conference that was held in D.C. in late October. By that time, Divis was too sick to moderate the panel herself, and she asked me to do it for her. It was a blast, and she seemed happy with the results.
Although she worked for numerous publications through the years, Divis, like many journalists who cut their teeth in print, wound up working as a freelancer as print jobs disappeared. So she became a tenacious, leading advocate for freelance journalists everywhere. Another passion of hers was freedom of information, which for those not paying close attention, is actually the biggest nonpartisan threat to our democracy out there today. It’s much more difficult for journalists to reach experts within government agencies at all levels than it used to be – and it’s the public that suffers the consequences of this barrier to information. Divis had many creative ideas on how to chip away at that wall.
Divis loved animals, particularly her cat Sonny, who she would stroke while he sat on her lap during our Zoom SPJ board meetings of the past 2 ½ years. She also loved music, and delighted in talking with The Four Bitchin Babes following their concert at The Birchmere that we attended in June. Less than a week after that concert, Divis was sworn in as SPJ D.C. Pro Chapter president at our annual Hall of Fame and Dateline Awards dinner. Her illness struck soon afterward, and I never saw her again, though we spoke a few times by phone and texted frequently during the ensuing months.
DeeAnn Divis was a fantastic journalist – and a better person. RIP.
The writer is publisher and executive editor of the Alexandria Times, and vice president of the Society of Professional Journalists DC Pro Chapter.