Facebook page aims to help find journalists who’ve dropped off the map

Sean Howe traces the start of his Committee to Detect Journalists page to his quest to locate Tom Burke, who once wrote for Rolling Stone, Esquire and other publications. He and Grantland writer Alex Pappademas bought Burke’s book and spent two or three years “trying to figure out what happened to him,” Howe said in a phone call with Poynter.

“It’s really surprising that people whose names are out there and Google-able, how hard it can be to find out what happened to them.” Howe’s new Facebook page aims to solve that problem through crowdsourcing: Surely someone knows what happened to some of these folks, he reckons. But for it to work, he’ll need a lot more people to join — currently 35 people have liked the page.

The image atop the page is a portrait of the journalist Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared in 1913. Howe, a freelance writer who has written a history of Marvel Comics, said he’s read a lot about the underground and alternative press of the ’70s and ’80s and has “been surprised how quickly people can go off the radar.” While lots of people are easier to find now than ever, “to their credit, people, especially of the Boomer generation or older, may not be on Facebook or other social media.” Or someone with the same name may be on LinkedIn, but contacting someone through that site can be a “roll of the dice,” he said.

Someone who knew Burke told Howe he’s dead, he said. (Reached by phone, Pappademas notes used copies of Burke’s book are available for cheap on Amazon.) Howe is now looking for a former Syracuse, N.Y., alt-weekly editor named David Armstrong but hasn’t had much luck there: “It’s not the most uncommon name in the world.”

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