Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Obituary: Warren Berryman

By FRAN O'SULLIVAN

Editor, journalist. Died aged 64.

Warren Berryman was a rare journalist who could write a story one day "that might bring down a Cabinet minister" yet share a beer with his unwitting victim a day later.

As editor of the Independent Business Weekly he worked hard to unmask the "Winebox" tax scandal and deliver a weekly digest that intrigued and delighted its readers.

A former US Marine who was beaten by Iranian authorities after being caught gun-running, Berryman did not become a journalist until 1976 when he persuaded then National Business Review editor Bob Edlin to give him a trial.

The 37-year-old rookie made his mark with a string of investigative scoops under Edlin's tutelage, unmasking corporate crooks, campaigning for free-market policies and against import licences.

As head of NBR's Auckland office, he threw journalists in at the deep end, sending cub reporter Pattrick Smellie to ask Air New Zealand's then chairman Bob Owens "whether he'd had to be hand-cuffed to his seat after getting drunk on a plane".

Smellie fortified himself with a stiff whisky, but was turfed out with a "you're the NBR - not even Truth would have the temerity to ask these questions", ringing in his ears.

Installed as NBR editor by publisher Barry Colman in 1988 to put some fire in the paper's belly, he quickly offended the faint-hearted and was tossed out when the paper was sold.

Colman brought him back to edit the short-lived but gutsy Examiner. But Berryman quit when Nevil Gibson was installed over his head after the paper merged with NBR in 1991. The Examiner scooped the pool at the following Qantas Media Awards.

With partner Jenni McManus he set up the Independent in 1992.

Journalists' copy might be "Berrymanised", but they knew they were working for a pro who would whoop and holler at a good story and back them to the hilt when lawyers' letters arrived.

Berryman's unique mentoring inspired great loyalty - but when his journalists joined rivals he cut them dead. His paranoia over NBR turned off staff who did not share his obsession.

Berryman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Christmas Eve. He knew there was no hope, but took a trip back to his home state, Arizona, then worked at The Independent to within days of his death, deputing McManus to keep the copy flow going and ensure "the paper got out - no matter what".

He is survived by McManus and his children, Alice and Jake.

When the word of his death spread, journalists said gloomily: "It's the end of an era". Somewhere out there "Wog" will be growling: "Only if you *****s let it."

* Fran O'Sullivan is a former NBR editor and Examiner journalist.

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