Early on, Pearl sought to be business reporter

Intelligent, confident, he was intrigued by development issues

February 22, 2002|By William M. Caufield | William M. Caufield,SUN STAFF

From the beginning, Daniel Pearl was determined to be a business reporter.

When he showed up in the summer of 1988 for a job interview at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., he told the editors interviewing him that he wanted to cover business, not government or courts.

He had done some business writing at The Transcript, a small daily in North Adams, Mass., but it was his enthusiasm, intelligence and quiet confidence that got him the job at the larger Eagle at the age of 24.

Pearl covered the local business scene in Berkshire County in western Massachusetts for two years under the watchful eye of Lewis Cuyler Jr., the Eagle's veteran business editor, who had spotted his work in The Transcript.

The Berkshires were an unusual blend of vibrant summer resorts and aging New England factory towns. About the time Pearl joined the paper, the area was entering a steep economic decline. General Electric, the area's largest employer, was in the process of shedding most of the 8,000 jobs in its Pittsfield plants, and Pearl covered his share of layoffs and reorganizations.

He was intrigued by development issues, and the tension between proponents of economic growth and those who wanted to preserve the environment - "the growthers vs. the no-growthers," as Cuyler put it. That interest prompted Pearl to write a series of articles on land use that won an award from a national planning association.

In doing the articles, Pearl also learned a lesson in the demands of writing a multipart story. Grier Horner, the paper's retired assistant managing editor, recalled yesterday that he had started publishing Pearl's series without having all the parts in hand. Pearl ended up rushing to complete the final installment the night before it was to appear. "I think it actually came in about 15 minutes after deadline," Horner said.

Through it all, Pearl maintained the calm and bemused approach that made him popular in the newsroom.

The staff of the family-owned daily, operating from an 80-year-old red-brick building on Eagle Street, included a mix of veteran journalists who wanted to live in the Berkshires and fledgling reporters, like Pearl, who wanted to hone their skills and move on to larger publications.

At the time, The Eagle had the reputation of being one of America's best small-city dailies, in part because of the caliber of the reporters it trained. It was obvious that Pearl was one of those who was going to advance quickly, so there wasn't much surprise when he announced after two years in Pittsfield that he was taking a job at the Atlanta bureau of The Wall Street Journal.

Pearl had plenty of interests outside journalism. He played the violin and joined with a couple of other reporters to play informal gigs. He quickly forged strong ties with people in the community. Even after moving away to join The Wall Street Journal, the Princeton, N.J., native, whose family lives in California, returned to the Berkshires periodically to see his friends.

Pearl took his music seriously. He had received permission from his editors to perform with the local symphony orchestra, but with the understanding that the music not interfere with his news-gathering duties.

So, on occasion, Danny Pearl would show up in the newsroom wearing a tuxedo. As smiling colleagues watched, he'd rush to finish his story, then, violin case in hand, rush out to make it to the theater in time.

William M. Caufield is The Sun's weekend metropolitan editor. He was managing editor of The Berkshire Eagle from 1988 to 1992.

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