George Short

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The Independent Online
No journalist could ever ask for a better start in life than George Short. In 16 years he taught hundreds of young people the elusive art of writing clear, compelling news stories and at the same time turned himself and his training courses at Reuters into the stuff of journalistic legend.

Short could have taught an armchair to write well-turned, simple prose; he also had a warm, generous personality and a sharp wit that made his students adore every minute they spent with him. Here he was, a great cuddly bear of a man, cracking jokes in his purring Devon accent, telling elaborate anecdotes about his colleagues or recalling past drinking binges; he seemed at odds with the dry, competitive world of news- agency journalism. Yet he put heart and soul into his work, his commitment to professional standards unwavering.

One minute he would improvise the part of an unforthcoming police spokesman for his students to interview, the next he would be standing with a stopwatch over the rows of old-fashioned manual typewriters he liked to use for his courses and zeroing in on his charges' woolly sentence structure or inaccurate sourcing.

Many distinguished editors and foreign correspondents now working in the British and American media owe their best professional instincts in reporting and writing to George Short. So, too, do the scores of journalists from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America who won places on his courses through the Reuter Foundation.

Short's background was as unpretentious as the man himself. He left school at 16 and joined the Bideford Gazette as a junior reporter before moving to London, first with the Associated Press and then with Reuters. In his mid-twenties he put himself through A-levels and took three years off work to graduate from the London School of Economics, taking part in the student protests of 1968 with great gusto.

He had an unusually eventful period of national service in Africa, at a time when half the continent was breaking free from its colonial ties - an experience that fuelled a gloriously scabrous view of large bureaucracies, whether they be the military or large multinational companies like Reuters.

Short worked as a Reuters correspondent in New York, and as a political and business news reporter in London before starting his training programme in 1981. His teaching techniques became ever more innovative, including mock video footage of a judicial hanging and a reconstruction of an entire IMF/World Bank meeting.

His colleagues and drinking pals couldn't wait to be asked to take part in these games, which were as engaging as they were educational. More often than not, they were followed by raucous all-night sessions with his students in pubs and restaurants all over London.

One Armenian newspaper editor who went on a two-week course summed it up: "If you dip your brush into a bucket of paint and try to portray the most colourful man in the British Isles, you will get, of course, George Short."

Andrew Gumbel

George Short, journalist: born Torrington, Devon 24 April 1939; married (one son; marriage dissolved); died London 1 June 1997.

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