There are times when I feel I must depart from this column’s primary mission – demonstrating that our “ancient” law is as relevant today as ever. A diversion might be called for when an issue arose that cried out to me for comment. Or an event of great personal moment may have moved me to reflection (the death of my wife of blessed memory, Marilyn Henry, comes to mind, as does the passing of my mother of blessed memory).
Read this week’s editorial and you will understand why I must digress yet again. Rebecca Boroson, the long-standing editor (perhaps long-suffering is more accurate), is retiring from the daily grind of putting out this newspaper. Even as she leaves the editor’s chair (she calls it a hot seat and I fear the accuracy of that description), I am going to fill it, albeit for a shorter time than some may prefer. I bring an adult lifetime of skill and experience to the task, but I believe The Jewish Standard needs an editor who is younger, and who is more adaptable to new technology so that The Jewish Standard will remain relevant deep into the 21st century.
Technology, however, must never be an editor’s primary concern. My career in journalism spans 44 years and in that time one concern overrode all others: the facts had to be facts, not factoids, and the writing had to be as free of bias as possible. I would have said “balanced,” but it turns out that balance is not necessarily what truly honest journalism should strive for.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently put it this way in discussing the debt-ceiling debate in Congress:
“News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of ‘centrist’ uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides. Some of us have long complained about the cult of ‘balance,’ the insistence on portraying both [political] parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one [political] party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'”
That is not the journalism I labored in and cherished for more than half my life.
For more than 10 turbulent years – during Kent State, the last years of the Vietnam war, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Yom Kippur War, the Camp David Accords, and the hostage-taking in Iran in the days after the fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi – I had the privilege of editing the most widely syndicated newspaper column in the country, written by Jack Anderson. It was a column that could make or break policies and politicians, a column in which a comma wrongly placed could wreak havoc in financial markets.
Editing Anderson was an awesome responsibility. It was made easier, however, because he was as committed to truth and fairness as I was (although his opponents invariably insisted otherwise). Once, he wrote a column “proving” the fact of a Watergate-era scandal, but when I pointed out the flaw in his argument, he killed the column and wrote a new one. It did not matter that it was 11 p.m. and he was in Miami at the time.
As editor, and as a reporter before that, Rebecca Boroson was always committed to truth and fairness. So will I be as I slip into her hot seat.
To be sure, not everyone will be happy every time. Truth and fairness sometimes require reporting and commenting on things some readers do not want to know, or do not believe is so regardless of the evidence presented.
It is not a newspaper’s goal to be all things to all people. It is the job of a newspaper to report as truthfully and as fairly as human nature will allow. When liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans both want to hang me in effigy, I will have done my job and the paper will have done its job. When letter-writers attack us for being anti-Orthodox and other letter-writers bemoan the fact that we are too Orthodox, I will have done my job and the paper will have done its job. We will have succeeded in reporting stories without letting our personal prejudices get in the way. Too many journalists today do give in to their biases and we are all worse off because of it.
There is a place for our opinions. An editorial, even when signed, represents the views of The Jewish Standard; it appears with the concurrence of the publisher and editor. Opinions that are uniquely the author’s own are found in our op-ed columns. Of necessity, reviews of all kinds are opinion pieces. Readers share their opinions in letters to the editor. The writer’s, or newspaper’s, opinion does not belong in news stories, however, and we will continue to strive to keep bias out of our reporting. My opinions will continue to appear where they always have done – in my column. They will be my views, not the Standard’s.
We are a community newspaper. We do not aspire to be the encyclopedic resource for all the news about Jewish life that is fit to print. That is not our mandate.
Our task is to serve you, the reader. Not only will we strive to give you the news you need to know about the community in which you live, but we will also search out articles that help you negotiate living in those communities. We need more “service pieces,” such as where to get help for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s, or what the scholarship policies are at area day schools and yeshivot, or which synagogues have outreach programs to college students living far from home. We need more people profiles, more free-flowing interviews with people of interest, more penetrating articles about the high cost of Jewish living in Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson counties.
In other words, we need to serve you and that is my pledge to you. The only way I can honor that pledge, however, is if you will let me know what articles you think we should be pursuing.
I am honored that Publisher James Janoff has entrusted his family’s precious gem to me. I pray that I live up to his expectations and those of others who participated in the decision.
I am also honored, however, to be entering my 14th year and a new five-year contract as rabbi of Temple Israel Community Center/Cong. Heichal Yisrael (the world’s first and only Conservative egalitarian chasidishe shtiebel). And I am honored to be the longest-serving instructor of the federation’s Florence Melton Adult Mini-School. To both my congregants and my students, I cherish what we do together. Journalism was my profession, but you are my passion. Nothing I do here will be allowed to interfere with that.