James Allen Flanery had the industry and drive to match his substantial intellect, and he used these qualities to fuel an award-winning career as a World-Herald reporter and as a professor of journalism.
Flanery died on Tuesday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 84 years old.
Flanery worked for The World-Herald from 1977 to 1995, including three years as the Underground’s editor. He taught journalism at Fresno State University before and after his stay in Omaha, and for two years at Creighton University.
“He tried to think in his work as a journalist about injustice and corruption and tried to do what he could to fight those kinds of dynamics,” said his son, Patrick Flanery. “In his teaching, he was really committed to training the next generation of journalists and convincing students of the importance of reporting versus something like public relations and marketing.”
Flanery produced impressive work and numerous journalism awards during his 18 years at the World-Herald.
“Jim Flanery set the standard for being a journalist: thoroughness, intelligence, curiosity, clear writing and hard work,” said Paul Goodsell, who was hired by Flanery in 1981 and is now editor of the World-Herald.
Flanery won the Overseas Press Club award for the best business or economic reporting from abroad for newspapers or news agencies, based on his 1987 series titled “World Agriculture: Growing Pains”. It was an ambitious project and a remarkable prize for a Nebraska newspaper.
He repeatedly won first-place honors in the Nebraska Associated Press competition; within a year, he was part of three first-place awards. His stories included investigating problems in Nebraska’s physician regulatory system, foster care, the failure of the Franklin Credit Union, bogus guests on TV shows, industry turmoil meat packaging, and much more.
Flanery’s work on the 1984 World-Herald series on overpopulation, which took him to Mexico and Brazil, revealed the human toll of population pressures in Latin America and around the world. The eight-day series – “The Population Bomb: A Human Matter” – has won a number of national and international awards.
Retired World-Herald photographer Phil Johnson, a close friend who worked with Flanery on the series, recounts how the lanky Flanery folded into a Catholic nun’s Volkswagen in Sao Paulo to venture off without being seen in a dangerously criminal area where local authorities had forbidden him to go.
In the Amazon, Flanery hasn’t been shy about confronting people involved in deforestation, Johnson said.
“He was a relentless reporter,” Johnson said. “He worked tirelessly, really. He was always (saying), we have one more interview, one more interview.”
Flanery’s approach to reporting had its roots in his youth. He grew up in poverty in Tulare, California. Flanery’s father died when he was very young, and Flanery took on his debt and helped his mother.
“That experience of being really marginal economically during World War II and its immediate aftermath, I think, had a very profound effect on his sense of justice,” Patrick Flanery said.
Jim Flanery went to junior college at the College of the Sequoias before earning his bachelor’s degree in what is now Fresno State, a master’s degree from UCLA, and a doctorate from Northwestern University. He reported for The Baltimore Sun for a short time in the early 1970s, then returned to California to teach journalism at Fresno State from 1973 to 1977.
Flanery taught at Creighton from 1995 to 1997. He returned to California and served as the first Roger Tatarian Chair of Professional Journalism in the Fresno State Department of Journalism. After his retirement in 2002, the Jim Flanery Print Journalism Fellowship was established in honor of his retirement.
Survivors include her son Patrick and her husband, Andrew van der Vlies; and ex-wife, Gail. Private services are provided. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center are requested.
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