Gene Miller, 76, a legendary newspaper reporter who won two Pulitzer Prizes and inspired generations of journalists with the motto "There is no substitute for news," died of cancer June 17 at his home near South Miami, Fla.
Mr. Miller crafted stories at the Miami Herald for 48 years, officially retiring in 2001 but continuing to work there as a contractor and coach, teaching interns, journeyman writers and editors the beauty of short sentences, careful interviewing and dogged reporting.
He won his first Pulitzer in 1967 for investigations that helped free a man and a woman who had been wrongly convicted in separate slayings. His second Pulitzer, in 1976, was for articles that helped free two men from death row; his reporting was over an eight-year period.
He worked long but wrote short. "It is sometimes said at the Herald that he writes as if he were paid by the period," said writer Calvin Trillin in a 1986 New Yorker article. In a typically telegraphic and funny self-written obituary published on the Herald's Web site, Mr. Miller noted that he was in "excellent health -- except for a fatal disease."
Mr. Miller's long years as a reporter in one of the nation's most news-rich regions led him to cover "everything from the JFK assassination to Elian [Gonzalez] with the presidential follies in between, Nixonian Watergate to Clintonian Starr Report . . . some of which seemed important at the time," he said.
Judy Miller, the Herald's managing editor, called him the "soul and conscience of our newsroom."
"I can't tell you the depth of sadness in this newsroom and in newsrooms around the country today, where Gene planted journalists, some of the best in the country," she said. "He came in my office practically every day he was here, saying, 'Toss me a story.' "
With a trademark short laugh and a bark of praise -- "Good copy, champion!" -- that rang out across the newsroom when he deemed a story worthy, Mr. Miller reveled in the work of ferreting out the news, then telling it simply and clearly.
Mr. Miller came from a time when working at a newspaper was seen as a trade, not a profession. In 1995, he told the American Journalism Review: "I get up, I come to work, I have a good time, I work good stories. But things are different. [Miami Herald owner] Knight Ridder's terribly schizophrenic -- they speak of quality and they talk of profits. They're so interested in money, and that's not why I became a newspaperman."
He wrote in a 2003 article, during the Herald's 100th anniversary, of modern management's obsession with "customers" instead of readers. He did it by telling about a dramatic sentencing of a notorious multiple murderer.
"Judge Edward Cowart asked the defendant to rise. As Cowart sentenced him to death in the electric chair, the defendant pivoted, pointed his finger at me and denounced me for my sloppy coverage.
"His name: Ted Bundy. For sure, a dissatisfied customer."
The preceding was an example of Mr. Miller's style, known as the "Miller chop" -- a short sentence after a couple of long ones.
It is rare, though not unprecedented, to win two Pulitzer Prizes for reporting. Mr. Miller went on to edit two more Pulitzer winners: Edna Buchanan's police beat reporting entry in 1986 and Sydney Freedberg's look into a local cult in 1991. Mr. Miller called himself a "peripheral contributor" to two more Pulitzers that the Herald won, in 1993 and in 1999. He won a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University in 1967 and wrote two books, both born of his newspaper reporting.
Mr. Miller, who was born in Evansville, Ind., graduated from Indiana University in 1950. He spent two years in the Army in the Counter Intelligence Corps, where he said he remarked "on surveillance, forgot where parked car."
He claimed to have been fired from the Wall Street Journal, where he spent a year in 1953, for lack of respect for the price of crude cottonseed oil. He worked at the News Leader in Richmond for three years, leaving after editors failed to see the newsworthiness of an article about a motorist who, having failed to pay the nickel toll on a bridge, was shot at by the tollbooth guard. The publisher and his neighbors owned the bridge, Mr. Miller said.
He found a journalistic home in Miami, where stories about wacky criminals, cruise-ship fires, kidnappings, dangerous doctors and race riots formed the warp and woof of a reporter's life. In such circumstances, some reporters wear out and others become adrenaline junkies. Mr. Miller burrowed more deeply into the injustices turned up by such daily journalism. Even after he mostly retired his reporter's notebook, he read every word in each day's paper.
His wife of 41 years, Electra Yphantis Miller, died in 1993.
Survivors include his wife of seven years, Caroline Heck; four children from his first marriage; a stepson; and eight grandchildren.
In his last story, he noted that he was treated in 2000 for a malignant tumor "with predicted 5 percent chance of future problems. Ha! In lieu of flowers, have a martini. Try Boodles gin. Parting words: Great run! Much joy! For sexual escapades, see addenda."