David Moberg was a Chicago-based writer and editor at the magazine In These Times who was nationally known for his work on labor issues.
“In our small world of labor writers, David was a guide,” said former Tribune labor reporter Steve Franklin. “His reporting always looked at the big picture, and always reminded us how work touches our lives, giving us meaning or in the worst cases, reducing our humanity.”
Moberg, 78, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease July 17 at his Hyde Park home, said his wife of 41 years, Jo Patton.
Born in Galesburg, Moberg received a bachelor’s degree in 1965 from Carleton College in Minnesota, where he edited an alternative student newspaper called Truth Limited.
Moberg worked briefly for Newsweek magazine in Los Angeles, covering the Watts riots in 1965, then traveled through Europe and the Middle East before returning to the U.S. in 1968 to study anthropology at the University of Chicago.
He was on hand for both the May 1968 student protests in Paris and the August 1968 protests in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, fueling his interest in the power of such actions.
Moberg received his doctoral degree in anthropology from the U. of C. in 1978, writing his dissertation on the plight of workers at the newly opened General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
While pursuing his doctorate, Moberg taught at Roosevelt University, DePaul University, Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University Chicago. However, his wife said, he felt the pull of journalism and maintained a keen interest in politics, and so in 1976 joined a group of friends to form In These Times, a progressive publication.
For the next 40 years, Moberg covered labor for In These Times, and he traveled widely to do so, covering everything from the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana in 1978 to the protests at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in 1999.
“David’s reporting was influenced by his graduate school studies in anthropology,” said former In These Times editor and publisher Joel Bleifuss. “And he realized that working people in this country lack the economic and political power because the union movement is weak. In those parts of Europe where labor is powerful, societies have a much higher standard of living.”
Salim Muwakkil, a former In These Times senior editor, called Moberg an “inspirational writer” who “infused his work with a kind of familiarity that lessened its ideological character.”
“He kind of snuck up on you,” Muwakkil said. “But you saw the truth in what he was saying. And what really attracted me to his writing — and I was attracted to it even before I got to In These Times — was his dedication to making his point rather than flashing any kind of writerly chops.”
Former In These Times writer John Judis called Moberg “dogged as a reporter,” and noted that Moberg’s work “was always informed by a wide knowledge of history and economics.”
“So you learned not only what people were saying and doing, but what their words meant,” Judis said.
Veteran journalist, political activist and political consultant Don Rose said that while Moberg was known for his work in labor, he had a wide range of interests, including the arts.
“In our circles, vociferous arguments on politics and other such issues were standard, and David is the one guy who through it all, he certainly has positions — and he wasn’t meek about those — but his ability to maintain an even tone and to be listening is the really great quality about him,” Rose said.
Moberg freelanced for numerous other publications, including the Chicago Reader, Chicago magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Nation, The New Republic and the Tribune. Several colleagues recalled a 4,837-word article he wrote in the Chicago Tribune Magazine in 2005 about a wave of factory closings in his native Galesburg.
Moberg put a human face on a town reeling from the disappearance of more than a dozen employers since the late 1990s.
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“The problems of Galesburg mirror those of hundreds of cities, each trying to define its future but falling short because so much hinges on how questions about the future of work are answered, for both the nation and the entire world,” Moberg wrote.
After retiring from In These Times in 2016, Moberg traveled and did some writing, but he also was slowed by Parkinson’s disease, his wife said.
“I know nobody who pursued as many interests as David,” said Noel Barker, a former college classmate who shared a house with Moberg and his family for 50 years. “His taste in music went from country blues to contemporary composers. He collected outsider art and sophisticated experimentalist art. Glass cases held Native American kachina dolls.”
Moberg also is survived by a son, Carl; a daughter, Sarah; two brothers, Dale and Lawrence; and a granddaughter.
A memorial service is being planned.
Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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