Photo of Robert Berger
Robert Berger
Photo by: Jae Rand

In memoriam: Robert Berger, 82

Robert Berger, a longtime journalism faculty member at USC Annenberg and former op-ed page editor for the Los Angeles Times, has died at the age of 82.

Berger died on Sept. 29 at his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with head and neck cancer.

Berger first joined USC Annenberg in 2001 and served the school in a number of roles, including teaching newswriting, nonfiction writing and courses focusing on the intersection of journalism and social justice, as well as serving as a writing coach.

“Bob left strong and wonderful memories among our faculty and staff,” said Gordon Stables, director of the School of Journalism. “We remember Bob as a very kind soul who really enjoyed working with students. Bringing so much of his own professional success into the classroom, he was passionate about wanting his students to succeed and doing everything he could to help them.”

Originally from Connecticut, Berger spent the summer before his senior year in college (the summer of 1964) participating in the Freedom Summer voter registration project in Mississippi. His 35-year journalism career included stints as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., and he later served as deputy op-ed editor at the Washington Star before joining the L.A. Times. 

“At the L.A. Times, Bob was known as an editor who inspired writers, sharpening articles with good questions as much as with his pencil,” said Michael Parks, professor of journalism emeritus and former director of the School of Journalism. “When he expressed interest in teaching at Annenberg, I hoped he would be able to do the same with our students, and he really did. He returned every assignment with real suggestions on how to make it better. As a writing coach, Bob's sessions were usually oversubscribed.”

Geoffrey Cowan, University Professor and dean of USC Annenberg when Berger joined, remembers his dedication to teaching and to his craft.

“Bob was a devoted teacher, a committed colleague — and a bit of a constructive provocateur,” Cowan said. “He bemoaned the fact that labor had not been more successful in its battle with capital in the early 20th century. Despite an often gruff exterior, he always tried to find ways to make ours a better world.”

He is survived by his wife, Debbie Goffa, a senior writer in presidential communications at USC, and their adult son Luke. Berger’s “Celebration of Life” will be held Monday, Oct. 18 at 9 a.m. at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, at the Old North Church. Members of the USC community are welcome to attend.