Seymour Topping was presented this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award by our president, Allan David Frank, on Thursday, Nov. 14. The annual award was given before an enthusiastic audience, which included a goodly number of Topping’s large family, at a dinner held for that purpose at The Players.
Topping (aka Top), who is approaching his 92nd birthday, has spent some 67 years in journalism. From the age of 16, when he was the editor of his high school newspaper he knew he wanted to be a journalist, specifically, a foreign correspondent in China. (He was inspired by Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, a seminal book on the beginning of China’s communist party).
After serving as an infantry officer in World War II, he realized his dream in 1946. International News Service hired him as a stringer with the title of Chief Correspondent for North China and Manchuria. He was based in Peking, where he covered the Chinese civil war. In 1947, INS put him on staff in Nanking. Six months later he joined the Associated Press and covered the fall of Nanking to the communists. A year later he established AP’s Saigon bureau, becoming the first American correspondent in French Indochina after World War II and the only one there when hostilities broke out. After two years, AP sent him to London, where he covered the diplomatic beat and then, in 1956, was assigned to a divided Berlin as bureau chief.
In 1959, Topping joined the staff of The New York Times. He was assigned to Moscow as chief correspondent. He covered the first space shots, de-Stalinization and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1963, he became the paper’s chief correspondent for Southeast Asia, covering the wars in Indochina. Other parts of the globe where he was based include the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. After 20 years abroad, Topping returned to New York to become the paper’s foreign editor and then was promoted to managing editor. He ended his 33-year career at The Times as the Director of Editorial Development.
Upon leaving The Times he became the Administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a position he held for nine years. He also was a professor at the J School (now emeritus) and, after his retirement in 2002, he conducted a seminar at Columbia’s School of Arts and Sciences on The Evolution of Media and the Public Interest – History and Issues.
Top has continued to write and lecture at other venues in the United States and China. He is president of the international advisory board at Tsinghua University in Bejing.
In March 2010, Topping published his latest memoir: “On the Front Lines of the Cold War: An American Correspondent’s Journal from the Chinese Civil War to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam,” a book about his experiences on the ground in covering the major events of that era. His other books include “Journey Between Two Chinas” and two novels. Professional affiliations include the presidency of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and chairman of their committee on international relations.
He is married to Audrey Ronning Topping, the photojournalist, documentary film maker, and author. They have five daughters.