Meyer “Mike” Berger (1898-1959), a reporter for the New York Times, is still widely considered one of the best American journalists to ever put pen to paper. His work included decades of articles for the Times, a column called “About New York,” baseball poetry, an article about an adventure in Harlem that explains the origins of the slang words "joint," "roach," and "stoned," a book called The Story of the New York Times, 1851-1951, as well as many other things.
And the man could write prose that would make Tom Wolfe green with envy. This gem is Berger’s lede on a piece headlined WHEN WE COULD SEE THE COFFINS:
The first war dead from Europe came home yesterday. The harbor was steeped in Sabbath stillness as they came in on the morning tide in 6,248 coffins in the hold of the transport Joseph V. Connolly. One coffin, borne from the ship in a caisson, moved through the city's streets to muffled drumbeats and slow cadenced marches, and 400,000 New Yorkers along the route and at a memorial service in Central Park paid it the tribute of reverent silence and unhidden tears…
In 1949, Meyer Berger stunned the journalism world with a powerful article about a mass murderer who killed several people in a street shooting in Camden, New Jersey.
The murderer, Howard Unruh, was a troubled veteran who had served in an artillery unit in WWII and had a collection of weapons and war souvenirs. He lived at home with his mother. A month before the rampage, he dropped out of pharmacy school. He was often seen walking down the street, reading from the Bible. He got into arguments with his neighbors and at one point took fierce objection to a fence taken down by a neighbor. Then the man snapped. He took his weapon out onto the streets of Camden and murdered two children, five men, and five women. Another child later died. When he ran out of ammunition, Unruh barricaded himself in his home. The police descended on the apartment and managed to eject him with tear gas and a barrage of gunfire, capturing and then quizzing him on his motives; he was unrepentant. At the time, it was considered the worst "street shooting" in American history, and it left the country reeling.
Meyer Berger wrote a moving account of Unruh’s crimes for The New York Times—and wrote it on deadline, no less. VETERAN KILLS 12 IN MAD RAMPAGE ON CAMDEN STREET appeared in the Sept. 7, 1949 edition.
Berger won a Pulitzer Prize for the article in 1950. You can read the full story by searching in the New York Times archive.
An award named after him honors "in-depth and enterprising reporting on individuals” and is sponsored by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.