SOJ Insider | George Esper

Esper featured in history book of The Associated Press

By Heather Bonecutter

Ogden Newspapers Visiting Professor in Journalism, Dr. George Esper, is a veteran journalist with plenty of his own stories to tell. He spent 42 years working for The Associated Press (AP) in Vietnam covering the major stories of the war.

Sharing the stories of his career, he is now featured in the book, “Breaking News: How The Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else.”

“I’m really proud of the book,” said Esper. “It’s been about 25 years in the making.”

The AP was formed in 1846, but until now the most recent comprehensive history of it was published in 1940. In 2005, under the leadership of AP president Tom Curley, the organization developed a team to produce a more current version of its history. A team of a dozen veteran AP writers and editors set out to gather anecdotes from former members of the AP to tell the stories of the world’s first wire service.

According to Esper, the book is a tribute to the AP and those who have worked there since it was founded. He says the book is a major contribution to journalism because it shows the courage and sacrifices journalists make in times of war and peace.

“It was a monumental job that couldn’t be done by two people,” said Richard Pyle, author of the two chapters on war. “When the book was being written, you have a choice of (who should) lead. It was an almost foregone conclusion that I would begin with George Esper and the fall of Saigon.”

In the war chapters, Esper describes his experiences of reporting during the Vietnam War and working later as the Saigon bureau chief. In one story, Esper describes what happened when Saigon fell and all outgoing telephone connections were severed. He says he was desperately asking for “a circuit to anywhere,” so he could send his story over the wire.

Getting information out of Vietnam was one of the biggest challenges journalists had to work around during the war. Reporters like Esper, though, capitalized on the limited resources they had to send the stories to their editors. The war chapters of the book provide accounts of these obstacles and the many dangers the reporters faced.

“The book was long overdue,” said Esper. “I had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it because I love talking about Vietnam.”

Pyle writes in the book that Esper “had scored a series of scoops and produced more than twice as many words as any other journalist in Vietnam, banging out daily war roundups that appeared in hundreds of papers.”

Pyle said Esper is humble and would deny that he is one of the greatest reporters in history. “I regard George Esper as a brother,” said Pyle. “I also know what he did, and he is the best there is.”

Esper spoke about the book on a National Press Club panel in June 2007, which aired on C-SPAN the following month. The other participants included Darrell Christian, former AP sports editor; Kathryn Johnson, former AP reporter known for her coverage of the civil rights movement; Ron Edmonds, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington and White House photographer; and Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former AP political correspondent.

“It was a real honor to appear at the National Press Club,” said Esper. “And I had the best of both worlds because I was representing the AP and West Virginia University’s School of Journalism.”

The book features 12 chapters, covering such issues as war, trials, sports and disasters, with a foreword written by David Halberstam, who died in an automobile accident shortly before the publication of the book.

“It’s a fascinating non-fiction book,” said Esper. “It really takes you inside the AP.”

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