Remembering LA reporter Henry Fuhrmann, a crusading wordsmith and beloved mentor

HEnry Fuhrmann had retired as editor of the Los Angeles Times when he launched a one-man campaign to remove the hyphen when describing Asian Americans and African Americans.

This earned the popular mentor and kind-heart of dozens of young journalists of color the fearsome nickname “Hyphen Killer”, which Fuhrmann happily accepted.

Fuhrmann objected to hyphens in a widely circulated essay in 2018 this has been credited with causing mainstream journalism to abandon stubbornly held conventions in referring to heritage.

Hyphens “serve to divide even though they are meant to connect,” he wrote. “Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can evoke otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full or fully American citizens.”

Fuhrmann, who died Wednesday at 65 after a brief illness, spent his career trying to improve the profession of journalism and encourage the media to use unambiguous and fair wording, as in cases of race and of sex.

In a message to friends and loved ones following his condition, his family reported Thursday:

“We are heartbroken to announce that our dear Hank passed away yesterday. It was early evening and he was surrounded by his closest family members…He passed away peacefully.”

An agent of change

The year after Fuhrmann’s essay was published, the Associated Press changed its direction on the “double heritage” in its style book. Other newsrooms, including ours, have followed suit.

It was one of Fuhrmann’s important victories. While at the Times, where he worked for 24 years, he pushed the newsroom to drop “transvestite” and use “transgender.”

Fuhrmann – whose mother was originally from Japan – had also convinced other journalists to stop describing the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II as “internment” – a term he called it inaccurate and an understatement.

His door was always open.

—Teresa Watanabe

Teresa Watanabe, an educational reporter for The Times and close friend of Fuhrmann, said she joined his mission to drop the use of “internment” because it “technically applies to enemy extraterrestrials who had been heard before a military council, while Japanese Americans who were incarcerated were never heard.”

Watanabe said she and Fuhrmann were also bonded by their passion for the Asian American Journalists Association and that he was committed to mentoring young reporters and editors at The Times.

“His door was always open,” Watanabe said. “If you just wanted to come in and shoot the breeze or you had a problem, he would stay there late until eight or nine o’clock just to be with you.”

His work with AAJA

Although he wasn’t feeling well when the AAJA held its annual convention in Los Angeles last month, Fuhrmann was determined to attend, Watanabe said.

“He was there for the Voices program, where our students showcase their projects, and he was just having the time of his life,” she said.

Fuhrman joked in an interview with AAJA for its 40th anniversary oral history project that he had become a gray-haired elder in the organization, but he was inspired by his younger colleagues, some of whom had them. themselves ran newsrooms.

“They are the future and the present,” Fuhrmann said. “And they’re full of ideas and energy, and I feel, if not younger, I feel energized around my colleagues.”

Reaction to his death

Over the past day, tributes to Fuhrmann have poured in online from all the journalists he has influenced and befriended over the past three decades.

Have a question about Asian American communities in Southern California?

Josie Huang reports on the intersection between Asia and America and the impact of these growing communities in Southern California.

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