Esteemed documentarian, photographer and former professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Andrew Stern, died June 27 at the age of 92.
Originally born in Germany during the World War II era, Stern’s family relocated to New York in fear of persecution for their Jewish faith. After establishing himself as a journalist and producer, Stern met Edwin Bayley, founding dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, who invited him to establish a broadcast program in 1969. During a time when many looked down upon broadcast journalism, Stern worked towards equalizing documentaries with the more popular print media.
Much of Stern’s work stemmed from his interests in geopolitics, American democracy and the free press. Throughout his 25-year tenure on campus, Stern produced countless documentaries, leading to him winning the coveted George Polk award for his documentary “How Much is Enough? Decision Making in the Nuclear Age.”
In addition to his documentaries, Stern enjoyed photography and gained attention for his Appalachia portfolio, a series of photographs capturing the lives of Kentucky miners.
“He was a storyteller, and his experience as a broadcast journalist really made him understand the power of visuals and audios together,” campus professor of photojournalism Ken Light said. “The power of that medium to reach a very large audience and to be able to tell a story — that’s so much different than a story you might read in the newspaper with a photograph.”
Campus journalism professor and librarian emeritus Thomas Leonard said he remembers Stern as an independent thinker who consistently had fresh outlooks on society.
Leonard added that due to Stern’s status as an immigrant, his interest in the American people and their culture, as well as his own Jewish heritage, often influenced his work.
“It was typical of him to be interested in something outside what one might imagine was sort of a comfort zone,” Leonard said.
Leonard also noted Stern’s dedication to helping his students find new and impactful stories to tell that were “outside the mainstream.” One of Stern’s most notable students included Marlon Riggs, a famous LGBTQ+ African American documentarian, who Stern encouraged to cover the LGBTQ+ experience.
Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Geeta Anand expressed her admiration of Stern’s passion for the campus community — especially his post-retirement warm welcomes to new faculty members. Anand said Stern reminded her of the importance of mentorship, noting she has now adapted his practice of personally hosting students.
“Andy stood out as someone who supported students who really wanted to be creative, so he was really a pioneer,” Leonard said.
Having spent a lot of her childhood in editing studios, Stern’s daughter, Alexandra Stern, discussed her father’s love for speaking to others about their life experiences. She noted that her father would often be the last to leave parties because of his true enjoyment of social gatherings.
She also described Stern as a charismatic professor that pushed his students to produce the highest quality of work possible, contributing to their professional successes.
“He often would live life unfiltered in a way that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way but was very impressive, and in a way it was very attractive because people were compelled to talk to him,” Alexandra Stern said. “He had a lot of energy and engagement.”