Obituary: Manfred Pagel - Editor who transformed Reuters
Thursday 1 February 2024
Manfred Pagel (photo), a German-born senior editor who implemented a radical transformation of Reuters during the 1980s, died on Wednesday at the age of 86, in London, after a long illness.
Tasked by editor-in-chief Michael Reupke in 1980 with merging the general news and economic services and moving to a greater focus on financial news, he ran into stiff opposition from the previously dominant general news journalists. Never a diplomat or conciliator, he was single-minded, outspoken and obstinate and did not flinch from confrontation. This made him very unpopular with many of the old guard.
But his uncompromising determination helped transform Reuters from a traditional agency focused on UK news media, with diminishing revenue, into a financial market-led news business which secured its future. Many former colleagues paid tribute to his kindness, loyalty and news acumen as well as his development and promotion of talented journalists. He also brought women and non-British journalists into senior ranks.
Pagel was born in 1937 in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg which after the Second World War became part of East Germany. He was named after the Red Baron, First World War air ace Manfred von Richthofen. In 1954 his father sent him to stay with his brother’s family near Chicago. Pagel completed his high school education there and won a scholarship to the University of Illinois. On returning to Germany to visit his family, he saw a Reuter advertisement for a correspondent in Bonn. Following an interview with chief correspondent David Sells, he was hired and joined the bureau in January 1961. Other assignments followed throughout Europe before he launched the German-language service in December 1971. He met his wife Barbara in the Bonn wireroom where she was a telegraphist.
He was editor of Reuters Economic Services in London when he was asked by Reupke to oversee the merger with General News. Under his watch Fleet Street editorial was transformed from an old-fashioned workplace with near Dickensian touches like internal communication via pneumatic tubes and hoists, to electronic distribution of news via the Reuter Monitor, and video-editing.
Pagel was obsessed with quality and accuracy, scrutinising the outgoing file and red-lining mistakes in grammar, particularly split infinitives and misused colons and semi-colons.
Anecdotes abounded about his uncompromising focus on market-moving news at the expense of general news stories - he was reported to have told one correspondent he should have taken a banker to lunch instead of covering a train crash - but he was a staunch defender of editorial independence and budgets.
His insistence on increasing Reuters international perspective and attention to financial news led him regularly to lecture journalists about stories in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung instead of the Fleet Street papers.
His period as editor of Reuters World Service (RWS) saw great events both on the economic front - Nixon’s decision to close the gold window, exchange rates; and politically - the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Falklands War. The latter led to Pagel becoming the hero of a much-repeated anecdote.
When Rear-Admiral William Ash, head of a committee which ordered UK media to censor stories for reasons of national security, phoned Pagel to complain because Reuters had reported the position of the British Fleet, he got short shrift. Ash is said to have asked: “Can’t I appeal to your sense of patriotism?” to which Pagel replied “I am German.”
He leaves his wife, Barbara, and two daughters Stephanie and Christine. His son, Andreas was killed in a hit-and-run incident in 2007. ■