David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

Meyer Berger
Reporter, New York Times

Berger left school at 13, was shy and unassertive, his eyesight wasn’t up to much, and he was cursed with a stomach complaint which prevented him straying too long from home. Thus handicapped, he went onto the streets of the toughest city in the world and became, in my view, the best reporter who ever lived.

A prolonged spell as a rewrite man, taking stories apart and putting them together again, was his university. He spent virtually all his career at the New York Times, where he soon became the paper’s top colour writer. No one has ever written intros that better encapsulated a story’s facts and spirit in a few lines:

On the death of a blind musician in the Subway: “The sixth sense that had preserved Oscar England from harm through the thirty-four dark years of his life betrayed him yesterday. One step too many in the BMT Union Square station and he was wedged, lifeless, between a north-bound express and the concrete platform.”

And on a failed circus escape: “Jackie, a young but lassitudinous circus lion, won more than an hour of freedom by escape from his cage in Madison Square Garden basement yesterday, but frittered it away in dreamy brooding.”

His career climaxed with a report of a multiple shooting for which he interviewed 50 people in a day, returned to the office and wrote a story of 4,000 words in two and a half hours, not one word of which was changed. The story brought Berger a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize. He continued to spend days off, notebook in hand and camera over shoulder, scouring the city’s sidewalks for stories, stopping, talking and listening, and, when he’d got round the next corner, jotting it all down. More than anyone else, Berger is the reporters’ reporter.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press