OBITUARY: Henry Fuhrmann, 65; Journalist, AAPI Community Coverage Advocate

RAFU STAFF REPORT

Henry Fuhrmann, retired Los Angeles Times editor of national repute as a wordsmith who advocated for fairness and accurate representation of race and gender in language, died September 14. He was 65 years old.

Henry Fuhrmann

Fuhrmann was a leader of the Association of Asian American Journalists who opposed the media’s labeling of Japanese American World War II concentration camps as “internment” camps.

In April, when The Associated Press updated its style guideline to recommend the use of “incarceration” rather than “internment” to describe the forcible deportation and imprisonment of 120,000 Americans from of Japanese West Coast descent during World War II, Furhmann heralded it as a “game changer.

In a 2020 Twitter post, Fuhrmann explained, “’Internment’ is an understatement that trivializes government actions. Officials used such benign language to mask the fact that the United States was incarcerating Americans whose only “crime” was to look like the enemy.

“The pervasiveness of ‘internment’ will not be easy to counter. Publishers who carefully select search terms to increase traffic may be reluctant to accept “incarceration”. But knowing that a term is incorrect and euphemistic should be important for anyone trying to be precise and clear.

He praised journalists who have used “incarceration” in their reporting, including Teresa Watanabe and Gustavo Arellano of The LA Times and Josie Huang of KPCC.

Furhmann encouraged the precise and precise use of words in news coverage, particularly in his efforts to improve coverage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

He convinced the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook to drop the hyphen in sentences describing a person’s ethnic heritage such as “Mexican American” or “Asian American”. The hyphen is unnecessary, Fuhrmann reasoned.

Wartime incarceration was not Fuhrmann’s family story. He was born in 1957 to Ronald and Yukiko. The couple met in Yokosuka while Ronald was serving as a corpsman in the Navy. Yukiko was originally from Wakayama and had moved to Tokyo.

Henry Fuhrmann in his early days as editor of the Los Angeles Times. (Courtesy of the Fuhrmann family)

Both of Yukiko’s parents died young, leaving her and her younger sister, Junko, to be raised in foster families. During World War II, Yukiko supported herself by working at the factory. The sisters grew up apart and didn’t see each other for over 50 years. Reconnecting later in life, they formed a strong bond during Yukiko’s many trips to Japan.

On a 2008 trip, Fuhrmann and his sister Irene accompanied their mother on a moving reunion with her long-lost sister in Wakayama. Yukiko took her children to a cliff overlooking the Pacific. She remembers being at this sight in 1945 and seeing US Navy ships lined up.

“That’s where we were when we knew the war was over,” Irene said, remembering her mother’s words.

One of Furhmann’s last requests was to have some of his ashes strewn in Wakayama.

“I think it’s because of my mother. I think for him and for me, my mom was such an amazing person and probably the most important person in our lives,” Irene said.

The Fuhrmanns grew up in Port Hueneme in Ventura County, a diverse community that included many families whose mothers were Japanese and fathers were white men who served in the military.

Yukiko worked as a seamstress at Oriental Drapery Co. and Oxnard Interiors, while Ronald commuted to work in Long Beach, San Diego and Camp Pendleton.

Wakaura Bay in Wakayama, where Henry Fuhrmann’s mother saw US Navy ships at the end of the war.

Fuhrmann excelled in studies and was a meticulous note-keeper. Both brothers Dave and Irene shared memories of teachers who called Henry their best student. He attended Cal Tech with the intention of becoming an engineer, but caught the journalism bug and spent most of his time editing the school newspaper.

Fuhrmann earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal State LA and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York. A job fair led him to find work at the photocopier of press day.

He was hired by The LA Times in 1991 as Editor and has been promoted to a number of positions over the years, eventually becoming Deputy Editor for Copy Offices and Standards in 2009.

He also rewrote the newspaper’s guidelines on how to refer to transgender people, removing the sorely outdated “transvestite” and allowing the use of the pronouns “they” and “them” when that is an individual’s preference.

Fuhrmann on the left The temperature in 2015 and was hired as an assistant journalism instructor at USC. Last year, he became editorial director of Bendable, an online learning platform through the Drucker Institute.

David Ono speaks at the AAJA-LA Holiday Charity Event in 2012. Left to right are Susan Hirasuna, Henry Fuhrmann, Denise Poon, Joz Wang and Denise Dador. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

He and his daughters lived in La Cañada Flintridge from 1997 until 2016, when he married fellow La Cañada Flintridge resident Lindi Dreibelbis. A few years ago, the couple moved to Claremont.

For decades and until his death he remained involved with ACES: The Society for Editing and AAJA, mentoring many students and aspiring journalists. AAJA announced shortly after Fuhrmann’s passing that they would honor him with their 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The AAJA-Los Angeles Chapter said in a statement, “Over the years there has been one constant in our AAJA-LA Chapter: Henry Fuhrmann. In every role, and leading with empathy, he shaped, appeased, persuaded, promoted and recruited with intelligence, humor and humility. We are grateful to have thrived by stimulating generations of journalists as well as innovation funds, sparked by his work.

“At this time, we join our AAJA family traveling for miles for a huge group hug, saluting the rare spirit that is Henry. We express our gratitude to Henry’s family, especially his daughters Elena and Angela, for sharing his time and talent with us over vigorous decades.

Los Angeles Time Journalist Samantha Masunaga was one of the students who benefited from Fuhrmann’s advice. She said that AAJA’s mission is dear to her heart.

“Henry has held virtually every position on the board of directors during his long involvement with AAJA-LA,” Masunaga said. “This year, he was in charge of organizing the AAJA-LA student internships as well as the Trivia Bowl. These roles have truly exemplified his passions: helping and mentoring students and building community within AAJA and other organizations. »

As news of his passing spread, many paid tribute to Fuhrmann for his passion for the language, his guidance and his mentorship of generations of journalists.

Anh Do, with others Los Angeles Time staff writers Denise L. Poon and Teresa Watanabe, were among those who visited Fuhrmann on what would be his last day.

“Spending time with Henry is enjoying his wit, wisdom, wonderful energy and empathy,” Do wrote on his Facebook page.

In an interview for AAJA’s 40e birthday, Fuhrmann said he was a “people person” who encouraged the AAJA to welcome those who wish to pursue journalism.

He said it was important to speak out at a time of heightened anti-Asian hatred.

“As I always said when I started being active in the AAJA as a leader, the first two words are Asian Americans, right? We are Americans first of Asian descent, who happen to be journalists. We are human first and we are here for each other first. The more we can do to know when we can raise our voices and be sure that we can raise our voice because it’s not just me speaking or an individual, it’s almost 2,000 plus members, all the people who have come before us,” Furhmann said.

Fuhrmann is survived by Dreibelbis; two daughters, Elena Fuhrmann and Angela Fuhrmann Knowles; stepchildren Kelly and Grant; and three siblings, Irene, David and Glen.

A celebration of life is planned for February. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be sent to the Richard S. Holden Diversity Fellowship (https://aceseditors.org/awards/richard-sholden-editors-fellowship) or the AAJA/LA (https://aaja-la.org/).

About Walter J. Leslie

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