January 2, 2006 3:29 pm
Fred Kapner, the Financial Times' Europe news editor who died suddenly at the end of 2005 aged 45, was a meticulous reporter and exacting news editor held in high esteem by colleagues and contacts alike. His strong convictions and forensic knowledge of Italian business helped him lead on the story of the financial scandal at Parmalat. More recently, he guided the newspaper's coverage of the demise of Antonio Fazio, the Italian central bank governor.
A punishing weapon in a journalist's armoury is a dogged sense of right and wrong. Kapner tempered a strong moral belief in his profession with an urbane and a dry sense of humour. At the height of the Parmalat investigation, when lawyers were poring over his articles prior to publication, Kapner said in a memo to the news desk: “We should do everything to reduce risk, but I believe a newspaper should not bow to the threat of a lawsuit by a wealthy individual simply because the law is weak. We've certainly seen enough of that in Italy and other countries these past few years.“
Throughout his career, his blend of intuition, integrity and stamina made him a formidable competitor among journalists covering Europe. At Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Business Week, where he worked for most of the 1990s, colleagues remember him for his determination and generosity of spirit.
His book of contacts in Italy - a tiny, well thumbed little notebook he always kept in his back pocket - was one to be envied, but was also one that, rare among reporters, he was prepared to share. Italian newspapers would regularly pick up his stories. And some of his rivals admit going to sleep at night dreading an early morning call to follow up a Financial Times story from Kapner's pen.
His love of Italy came across in many aspects of his private life. He was married to Paola Mariani and leaves two daughters, Sveva and Giulia. He returned to Italy at every opportunity. His last article was a well-observed critique of Florence's faded tourist appeal.
Before joining the Financial Times as Milan correspondent Kapner who had freelanced for Business Week in Italy - helped open Bloomberg's Paris office in 1992. His aggressive reporting style in the most positive sense - breaking down difficult doors and seldom being frightened of treading on French toes - helped put Bloomberg on the map in France.
Kapner subsequently joined Dow Jones and ran its Milan office before moving to London. He then returned to Milan for the Financial Times where he worked tirelessly on the Parmalat scandal, rushing back to Milan from holiday in the US after Christmas only a few days after the affair broke.
Kapner combined the best aspects of American journalistic standards - he was after all a New Yorker, although his mother was of French origin and he was fluent in both French and Italian - as well as a profound knowledge of European customs and ways of doing business. Nothing better displayed his rigorous American approach, as well as honesty and integrity, than an occasion in Milan when he turned down tickets to La Scala from a leading Italian company on the basis that it could constitute a bribe. He also made a name for himself by grilling Italian chief executives whose smooth presentations either infuriated him or failed to answer his questions. Kapner could be gruff and had a temper, but one that was usually fired either by what he considered to be cant or professional laxity.
Kapner was always direct and to the point, yet also understood the complexities of the European corporate world which he found fascinating. He held his subjects in sharp focus, but at all times kept a sceptical distance from the business world he covered. This, over the past 18 months, made him a tenacious and demanding anchor of the newspaper's European coverage. He will be deeply missed by friends and colleagues alike.
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