New biography shines a spotlight on a legendary journalist who won one of the last great newspaper wars in the U.S.


Best-selling biographer Jane Wolfe’s latest — “Burl: Journalism Giant and Medical Trailblazer” (Sept. 6, 2022, Andrews McMeel Publishing) — looks at legendary journalist Burl Osborne’s extraordinary life and career.

“Burl” is the story of one man’s unlikely rise from the coal mines of Appalachia to the pinnacle of journalism. After being diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease as a child, Burl Osborne pioneered home dialysis treatment and became only the 130th person to undergo a live kidney transplant in 1966 — then an unproven, high-risk operation.

While managing his challenging illness, Osborne distinguished himself early as a writer and reporter with The Associated Press, eventually rising to the top of the wire service’s executive ranks. Then, against the advice of his colleagues and the newspaper’s own doctors, he sought an even greater challenge: joining The Dallas Morning News to lead the fight in one of America’s last great newspaper wars.

Throughout his life and career, he garnered respect from business and political leaders, reporters, editors and publishers around the country. “Burl” thrusts readers into the improbable and remarkable life of a man at the forefront of both medicine and a golden age of journalism. This year marks the 10th anniversary of his death.

Osborne served as president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in 2000-2001, which merged with the Inland Press Association in 2019 and is now America's Newspapers.

Author Jane Wolfe said integrity and fairness were Osborne's guiding principles. “He learned early on — as a TV news reporter at the very start of his career — that if he was neither too far left nor too far right, and if he played his stories straight down the middle, he would not only be more credible but also have more success as a journalist. It was an early lesson in fairness from a journalism teacher he respected — and he never forgot it.”

She said, “I was impressed by his extraordinary drive and energy, which were especially remarkable given his kidney problems. After his early kidney transplant, with just one working kidney, he rose quickly up the ladder with The Associated Press, causing one reporter to quip, 'Imagine what he could do with two kidneys!'”

She said there are lessons the next generation of journalists can learn from his life and career.  “We’re often told that good guys finish last. But Burl proves that’s a myth. He was as well-liked when he finished first — as head of The Morning News and head of The Associated Press — as he was when he was starting out as a cub reporter. A journalist who wants to make a name for herself or himself today can do this by working hard to get the story right, not by sensationalizing it or giving it a personal bent to benefit himself or herself. Burl was always balanced, whether writing about a mine collapse in Kentucky or managing a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper series in Texas.”


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