Personal Qualities

According to the obituaries, different personalities make for good journalists. Articles honored broadcasters for their matter-of-factness as well as emotionality. Numerous obituaries, usually those written by close colleagues or friends, argued that the eccentricities of deceased journalists spawned the kind of journalism they were known for. Even though these kinds of descriptions were similar in detail, different traits were celebrated in different tones in the two countries.

Tenacity, aggressiveness, relentlessness and fearlessness were character traits that were particularly emphasized in USA and not in German obituaries. Bette Orsini, who was known for her investigations on Scientology, was described by one of her former editors as follows: “She was one of the most tenacious—almost ferocious—reporters I have ever worked with during my career ... Every cliche, including the one about the bulldog that gets a hold of an ankle and won’t let go, was true of her” (Meacham 2011). In some cases, evidence for aggressiveness was substantiated by anecdotes of resisting external pressures. They were typically set forth in the lede, as in Daniel Schorr’s obituary in the Times: “Daniel Schorr, whose aggressive reporting over 70 years as a respected broadcast and print journalist brought him into conflict with censors, the Nixon administration and network superiors, died on Friday in Washington” (Hershey 2010).

Another attribute, which occurred in USA but not in German articles, was competitiveness. A former colleague at the Times commemorated Malcolm Browne, an AP journalist who reported about the Vietnam War, as a “’fierce competitor’ but also a friend” (Yardley 2012). The obituary of long-time ABC anchor and reporter Edward Morgan mentions that “he next worked for United Press International on the West Coast, in Hawaii and in Mexico, where he beat the competition in reporting the assassination of Leon Trotsky” (Lambert 1993). Competitiveness or competitive successes were not part of the German obituary discourse. This is in line with one of the key finding of Chap. 5, which is that German reporters perceived competition as inherently problematic while US reporters saw it as a virtue.

German obituaries often described journalists as quiet and reserved. When an author portrayed a journalist as critical, she also emphasized that they were not spiteful. Joachim Neander, a former political correspondent in Bonn and a “chronicler of the last years and days of the old federal republic [before the German reunification]” was described as “never tempted towards chumminess or rowdiness; his style was always defined by generous, elegant distance” (gur 2010). Martin Suskind’s journalistic craft was celebrated and related to his bloodline as the brother of the author of the best-seller Perfume. As a chief editor, “being brash and showing off was not Suskind’s style; he was more concerned with what was in the newspaper he was responsible for rather than himself being represented in it” (sha/ddp/dpa 2009).

Another particularity of German obituaries was that they frequently quoted politicians, especially when the deceased journalist was a political reporter. At Hans Ulrich Kempski’s obsequies, former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder described the former chief reporter of SZ as a “great journalist and a very amiable person” (Kappner and Warta 2008). German obituaries also had a stronger inclination to get to the heart of a person through his or her shortcomings. The lede of Herbert Riehl-Heyse’s obituary, a renowned SZ journalist, could not be a better illustration of this:

Maybe the greatness of a person shows best when he shows weakness. Herbert Riehl-Heyse was often anxious, vain, coquettish. But he has always acknowledged this and expressed something, which most colleagues would only admit under torture: he became a journalist not least in order to “receive attention and to feel important.” (di Lorenzo 2009)

This last quote was taken from a lecture Riehl-Heyse gave at the award of the TWP in 1996. The obit, titled Lob des Eigensinns (Lauding obstinacy), continued in this fashion while remaining deeply respectful of the deceased who “renewed feature writing in Germany,” maintaining that “nobody is able to fill the gap that Herbert Riehl-Heyse left behind” (ibid.). However, there were also less flattering examples to be found. Der Spiegel, for instance, begins commemorating Diether Stolze (DieZeit) as follows: “He was one of those journalists who naturally felt like belonging to the political guild” (Unsigned 1990). The obituary identified as his main defeat that “he had failed in his attempt to turn the liberal paper conservative” (ibid.).

The only US example that focused on negatives character traits to a similar extent was the obituary of former New York Times chief editor A. M. Rosenthal: “Brilliant, passionate, abrasive, a man of dark moods and mercurial temperament, he could coolly evaluate world developments one minute and humble a subordinate for an error in the next” (McFadden 2006). Besides praising his many journalistic accomplishments, above all the publication of the Pentagon Papers against massive pressure from the Nixon White House, the 4329-words Times A1 obituary keeps coming back to Rosenthal’s temper, “stormy outbursts” and “fits of anger” (ibid.).

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