I recently attended a memorial service for Edwin O. Guthman, a great American journalist and public servant, who died in Los Angeles in August. This gathering in Washington was for his East Coast admirers — and that included everyone from deans of the Washington press corps to acolytes like myself, lucky enough to work at The Philadelphia Inquirer when Ed, as editorial page editor, set a standard for journalistic excellence that I continue to reach for today. The service was, like Ed, tender, funny and inspiring.
But it was also laced with a deep sense of gloom, typical of journalistic gatherings these days. Ed was national editor of the Los Angeles Times when that newspaper had noble aspirations; now, its new, reckless owner has filed for bankruptcy. Our former newspaper in Philadelphia is but a shadow of itself, with more layoffs announced this week. The sinking economy has led to far fewer journalists doing what Ed did best: exposing corruption and injustice; holding elected officials accountable; speaking on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.
We at the Forward are not immune to these industry-wide convulsions, and declining revenue in the last five months has forced tough budgetary decisions. But as a nonprofit newspaper with a devoted national following and a century-old reputation, we are in a better position than most to weather these uncertain times.
Especially with the new editing team that we have assembled, a talented collection of journalists who will help me strengthen the Forward in print and online. Our new managing editor, Lillian Swanson, has extensive national experience running newspapers and news Web sites, teaching editors and training managers and it’s her ability to organize and solve problems, and her plain decency, that make her suited to this job. Lil has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and immediately earned the staff’s affection by continuing her predecessor’s tradition of keeping a constant supply of candy in her office, particularly welcome on deadline days.
Larry Cohler-Esses already had a reputation for award-winning investigative journalism before he joined the Forward this month as assistant managing editor; his work at The Jewish Week, New York Daily News and Washington Jewish Week earned him well-deserved accolades. Now he oversees the entire news operation and, as an experienced writing coach, will help us improve the already high quality of our writing. Larry has an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois where he also received a master’s in journalism.
The Forward’s long tradition as an influential home for Jewish thought and literature continues under Dan Friedman, the new arts and culture editor. A founder and associate editor of Zeek, the Jewish cultural journal, Dan is a skilled wordsmith with a wide-ranging intellect and a terrific sense of humor, honed when performing on-stage comedy in his native England with his friend, Sacha Baron Cohen. Dan has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D in comparative literature from Yale. The fact that he hails from Leeds, the city in central England where my mother was born and raised, played only a small role in his hiring.
The Forward’s Web site has won numerous awards in recent years, but the need to provide a more robust, daily presence online is both a journalistic and strategic imperative. So I’m pleased that Gabrielle Birkner is our new Web editor. She comes from the late New York Sun, where as features editor she guided print journalists in transitioning to the Web. Before that, Gabi polished her skills at The Jewish Week and The Stamford Advocate. A graduate of Northwestern’s journalism school, she brings energy, creativity and sparkle to our newsroom.
Rounding out our editing team are two valued Forward veterans: Daniel Treiman as opinion editor and Sarah Kricheff as features editor.
Two other notes: Nathaniel Popper, who served ably as news editor while also breaking story after story about the kosher meat industry, returns to reporting at his request. Look for more powerful investigative stories from him in coming months.
And as if to underscore the importance of that story to the Forward, on December 5 the New York Community Media Alliance awarded first place in editorials/commentary to editorial director J.J. Goldberg, for his front-page editorial “Judging Character — and Kashrut,” published on August 15. The Forward also won first place in election coverage and second place in feature writing.
We build on this strong, historic foundation.