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It happened in a flash.

Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert were on NBC going over election results in November 2004 when Russert, who was well known for his nearly illegible scrawls on a pint-size whiteboard, was suddenly annotating voting results on what looked like a laptop turned inside out. Almost instantly his words showed up on the television screen.

What was that?

If I’d seen a tablet PC before, it didn’t impress me enough to remember it. I checked the next day and found that Russert had been using a Fujitsu Stylistic ST5020. I’ve had a soft spot for tablets ever since. Every time somebody tried to dismiss them, I generally said, “They have to be for real. They tore Russert from his blackboard.”

That was the first thing I thought of today when I heard the news that Tim Russert had died suddenly in his office. Died with his boots on, as they say. At his desk. The way every journalist says they want to go, even if for most of us it’s a lie. Russert did a lot of the things we all say we want to do. He asked really tough questions. He kept his cool when others got flustered. He was always polite and respectful. He changed his area of journalism–political reporting–forever. We all say we want to do things like that. He did it. Big difference.

Much of today was spent commiserating with colleagues, wondering how Sunday morning could ever be the same without the guy who invented the expressions “red states” and “blue states” asking the hard questions of our leaders. I’m always going to remember that I was nearly moved to tears just days ago when Russert stepped out of his reporter’s role long enough to marvel at the history being made by Barack Obama’s nomination to represent the Democratic party.

For the moment he was just a proud American. And he wanted to share it.

Tim Russert will be remembered for a lot of things. Honesty, integrity, guts. He probably won’t be remembered by many as the guy who pecked away uncomfortably at the first tablet PC many of us ever saw outside of a trade-show booth.

But what he really should be remembered for is being a guy who tried to keep us straight. Us. Reporters. Especially we reporters immersed in technology. On the same day he passed away, MSNBC posted a Q&A with Russert talking about online efforts to smear presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Obama’s efforts to use to the Web to fight back

“It’s amazing how much the Internet has changed our lives,” Russert said. “People get e-mails that make accusations without foundation and they are circulated around the country within seconds and suddenly become topics of conversations around water coolers or in lunchrooms.

“It’s a virus,” Russert continued. “You have bloggers on both sides, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats all trying to utilize this vehicle without any kind of fact checking and without any kind of editorial control.”

RIP Tim Russert. Our business needed you now more than ever. We’ll miss you greatly.