Updated September 12, 2022 - 12:41 pm
A few years ago, searching through old Review-Journal paper files for a pre-internet story, I ran across a column by Jeff German written during his Las Vegas Sun days.
There at the top was his picture: Bearded, with a thick head of hair and glasses, German stares out at the camera, head perched on fist, the face of someone who’s seen it all and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
“Nice photo!” I wrote as I sent a copy of the photo to Jeff, who I first met when I joined the Sun back in 1993. He was already the paper’s investigative reporter and a star on the newspaper’s staff.
“Can’t live this down,” Jeff wrote back. “This photo surfaces from time to time. That’s what a serious journalist looks like.”
Indeed, it is.
The Sun in the early 1990s was a tight-knit crew, enjoying the camaraderie of being the scrappy David battling against the Goliath Review-Journal. It didn’t hurt that one of Jeff’s mentors was former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, who regularly passed along tips and was admired by every reporter in the Sun newsroom.
Jeff loved the work of journalism, the digging for stories, coaxing information from sources and scooping the competition. He was good at it, too, and became well known enough to have his caricature appear on the wall at The Palm restaurant in Caesars’ Forum Shops.
His catchphrase when working on a blockbuster became a mantra in our little group: “It’s big!”
Over the years, Jeff’s scoops were big, even legendary. He covered Las Vegas at the tail end of the mob era and the beginning of the corporate one.
When the Sun unceremoniously laid him off in 2009, Jeff came to the Review-Journal. He told me he was grateful to be able to continue his life’s work in journalism in one of the best news towns in the country.
The scoops continued. He wrote about failures in inspections after the Alpine fire, and a lack of emergency plans after the 1 October shooting. He called out high-flying elected officials traveling on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority dime. He revealed Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore was being investigated by the FBI, reportedly for campaign finance irregularities. (Fiore is currently running for Nevada state treasurer.)
Jeff also reported on the wild spending at the convention authority and a scandal involving Southwest Airlines gift cards, reporting that preceded the retirement of the authority’s well-liked President Rossi Ralenkotter.
That was Jeff: Regardless of political party or how popular somebody was, if they’d done something wrong, he’d call them on it. He’s been described as a bulldog; once he was on a story, he couldn’t be shaken off. Former District Attorney David Roger said it best: Jeff just wouldn’t give up.
Our last email exchange happened just before he left on a short vacation, when he filed a story for our general election voter guide. He wanted to make sure I got that piece early, because Jeff was conscientious and thorough.
He’d never return from that vacation. Jeff was murdered just over a week ago, allegedly by one of the targets of his investigative reports. Jeff’s family, his friends and his colleagues are still absorbing the shock and grief of his loss.
Some investigative reporters have a reputation for being gruff, or even elitist, since they are the stars of any newsroom. But Jeff wasn’t that way: Any time his investigations wandered onto the political beat, he’d call me with a heads up, and we’d trade information, run through possible scenarios and discuss sources. He was a collaborator.
It’s still hard for me to believe that I won’t ever talk to Jeff again about a story or trade gossip about a politician. It’s hard for me to think about how the Review-Journal newsroom has lost one of its best and most experienced reporters, and the city one of its most important truth-tellers, at a time when we need it more than ever.
All we have now are memories of a lost friend and colleague, and Jeff’s example: Always look out for the little guy. Put in the hard work. Make the calls and learn the facts. Do the tough interviews and ask the pointed questions. Follow the facts. And never back down from a story.
Jeff will never be replaced, but the work he did must go on. It will take all of us to do it.