Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ernie Pyle

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ernie Pyle

Article excerpt

Ernie Pyle Born: 1900 Died: 1945

Career Highlights: Started as reporter in native Indiana, later a Scripps Howard writer. Gained fame for his World War II reports, killed by Japanese gunfire during the U.S. landing on Okinawa; and became a national hero.

Ernie Pyle's legendary standing in 20th-century American newspapering is an ongoing reminder that stories about the ordinary and the extraordinary alike, deftly reported and carefully written, can live on in readers' minds for decades. An authentic voice has staying power. After all these years, any number of Pyle's sentences thrown against a wall would stick there.

Arguably the most famous newspaperman of the century, certainly the most-read correspondent of World War II, Ernie Pyle was one of those rare newspaper people who didn't much care for the news. Politics especially bored him. Anything that smacked of official utterance left him cold. A reporter Pyle was, and a fine one, but his was a different sort of news, all sidelong glances and oblique angles.

Prior to becoming a war correspondent, Pyle spent seven years traveling around the United States for Scripps Howard Newspapers, writing a daily column about the people and places he encountered. He rarely took notes, rarely conducted anything approximating a formal interview. Mostly he listened, watched, conversed. Where other reporters would have seen only empty space and boring people, Pyle saw stories. Writing these, he gave no thought to what would interest readers; the key was what interested him. Audaciously, courageously, Pyle believed readers would follow. They did.

Millions of them followed him to World War II, where Pyle's dispatches were so peppered with intimate details of life at the front that readers came to understand a great deal about how soldiers - particularly infantrymen - lived there, and sometimes how they died there. Half a century later, Pyle's war writing still breathes like an intimate conversation, still serves as a bridge across time and space, linking generations in an experience of the unthinkable: a global war.

Enduring prose originating in newspapers, the most transient of publishing ventures, is a remarkable thing and attests to the good that can come when skilled editors turn a skilled writer loose to ignore the obvious and dwell on stories that ordinarily never get told. …

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