A journalistic warrior

Legendary Conrad Fink hammered home media's crucial role

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You may never have met or heard of Conrad Fink, but you’ve no doubt seen his handiwork – albeit through the hands of others.

One of the most beloved professors in Georgia, Fink trained several generations of journalists at the University of Georgia who now have fanned out across the entire country and abroad – schooling them in the time-tested basics while always keeping an eye on the innovations of tomorrow.

Most importantly, Conrad Fink was an absolute warrior when it came to understanding and imparting the crucial role of newspapers in a free society. Accurate, fair reporting by a free and independent press safeguards our liberty and holds an awesomely powerful government accountable for its actions. Accurate, prompt, dependable, courageous – these are the qualities needed in a free people’s news organizations.

These are the qualities Conrad Fink drummed into his students at UGA since 1983, with a gruff old-school exterior – fronted by furry eyebrows that just meant business – and an unyielding devotion to real-world deadlines. But always underneath beat the golden heart of a newsman who bled ink.

He always knew what he was talking about, from firsthand experience. For 20 years before coming to UGA, he was a hard-nosed working journalist, a foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia and vice president of the Associated Press. He was with the AP alone from 1957 to 1977. If that wasn’t enough to toughen his skin, he was also a Marine.

Fink was aptly named a Grady Fellow by UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in November – the first faculty member to be so honored with the designation normally reserved for accomplished graduates of the school.

“Conrad’s trained some of the best, and they value his advice still,” Kent Middleton, head of the journalism department, said at the time.

Fink died Friday at the age of 80 – sending waves of grief, tears and knowing smiles of remembrance across the miles and the years stitched together by his legend.

Athens Banner-Herald Editorial Page Editor Jim Thompson writes that in his dealings with students of Conrad Fink over the years, “They have been, without exception, the most professional and committed journalists it has been my pleasure to know.”

To his students, writes the AP’s Greg Bluestein, Fink was more than a professor: “He was a sage.”

Bluestein recalls being summoned to Fink’s office during his freshman year after having written an unspectacular article for the student newspaper. Bluestein treaded into Fink’s office, as the lion might have approached the Wizard of Oz, clutching a copy of the newspaper “like a shield.” Fink grabbed the paper out of his hand.

“This,” Fink barked brusquely, eyebrows pointed at the young man’s head, “is the most important thing you can do in your four years here. Now get out of my office!”

How can you forget someone like that? There are hundreds of journalists today, blessing their readers with the lessons of Conrad Fink, who never will forget him.

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