One last time!/ Relax, have a drink with me/ One last time. — “Hamilton”
On the front page of last week’s paper, we published a short letter to our readers which stated, in part: “Starting in August, the weekly print edition of The New York Jewish Week, our sister publication, will go on hiatus while it concentrates on developing an all-digital model. As a result, NJJN’s print edition will also go on hiatus, as it and Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ examine a viable business model that maintains the high standards of Jewish journalism our readers have come to expect.”
So, as several readers (and advertisers and friends) have asked us, exactly what does this mean? I wish I could say for sure, but at the very least it appears that we’ve reached the end of the newspaper’s almost-75-year run, at least in this iteration.
No doubt it’s a sad week, for me, for our hardworking staff, and I hope, for our readers, but it’s not something we haven’t seen coming for some time. It’s news to exactly no one that the classic business model of newspapers has been in danger ever since an internet connection became a staple in every home. But despite a massive drop in ad revenue, budget cuts, multiple rounds of layoffs, and the overall preference of young people to read on a mobile device rather than in newsprint, somehow NJJN managed to avoid the surging waves that sunk larger vessels, never unscathed but always keeping afloat, our sails intact, our flag raised, and the bow pointing homeward. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic is the storm we cannot weather.
And, to complete the nautical metaphor, I am content, though sad, to go down with the ship. It’s heartbreaking that it has come to this, that we will no longer be able to share the rich and varied stories of the Greater MetroWest community, that we will lose touch with many of our sources and amazing individuals we’ve covered, not to mention the constant contact among NJJN staff, professional relationships that almost immediately morphed into close friendships.
But as Alfred Lord Tennyson — a name I learned seconds ago from a Google search — so famously said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And man, did I ever love NJJN. There was the symbiotic relationship between myself and Managing Editor Shira Vickar-Fox, who pushed me to plan beyond the next issue despite my futile protests to stay in the here and now, and who, though cringing at my constant procrastination (I swear my column will be ready soon, Shira), became my confidant and cheerleader. Lori Silberman Brauner (no hyphen!), who started as a quiet copy editor but would become NJJN’s deputy managing editor, showed her ability to engage in in-depth reporting and writing moving personal essays, so good that I looked the other way when she spent a week or more on press junkets abroad — and insulted her “boss,” as she called me, with abandon.
We couldn’t have gone on this long without our workhorse, Senior Writer Johanna Ginsberg, always vital to the paper but who absolutely carried us in the last few months by filing weekly stories — even while on vacation — that informed and enlightened readers and showed them aspects of their community they had not previously seen. It’s no small comfort that before we had to say goodbye, we announced that one of Johanna’s pieces had won a Rockower Award, Jewish journalism’s highest honor, in the category of Excellence in American Jewish History. Staff Writer Jed Weisberger was always up for anything, never begging off a tough story or a request to delve deeper, and his cheerful, can-do attitude made it impossible to dislike him no matter how much he insulted my beloved Red Sox.
And suffice it to say that this entire operation would have gone belly up without Classified Sales Supervisor/Office Manager/Jill of All Trades Lauri Sirois. I couldn’t possibly do her justice by describing everything she does for NJJN, so I’ll only add that she’s the best.
Even in a pressure-filled newsroom, the camaraderie helped us develop a (sometimes false) sense of calm. As a nod to millennial workplaces, we instituted a 20-minute “mandatory-ish relax time” for our limited non-production days, a chance to recharge our creative batteries and try to stave off burnout. Stepping away from our desktops, we used the time to take short walks on nice days or sit around playing board games and online song quizzes when the weather didn’t cooperate. Kids were frequent guests in the office during school and college breaks, and we even had an office bunny, Johanna’s Mr. Chubbs, who spent his days scampering from room to room in search of things to chew.
It wasn’t all good. Besides the multiple horrific tragedies that have hit the Jewish and greater communities in New Jersey, the U.S., and the world, the NJJN staff and our readers were devastated by the loss of our beloved colleague Bob Wiener in 2018. Bob, who was 78, was a colorful character — no, he was our colorful character — a lover of the little guy, journalism, social justice, and jazz, who was, to be kind, technically challenged. Lauri Sirois once told me that years ago he fell asleep at his desk and awoke in a panic, believing he’d accidentally deleted his completed but unfiled story during his slumber. Upon closer inspection, Lauri realized he had been sleeping on the space bar and his story was intact on the first page of what was now a 342-page document. We still miss you, pal.
There are so many people to thank for their contributions to the newspaper since I joined in 2016 (and before that, of course), starting with NJJN’s Sales Administration and Circulation Manager Nancy Greenblatt, Senior Account Executive Nancy Karpf, Account Executive Steve Weisman, Jewish Week Sales Manager Ruth Rothseid, and others on the sales staff. We don’t see them as often, as they spend their days away from the office hustling to make money for the paper, but they’re every bit as crucial to NJJN as the names you see before each article.
We’re also grateful for our steady group of NJJN contributing writers who’ve been with us since the beginning, including Martin J. Raffel, Merri Ukraincik, and Michele Alperin, as well as former Bureau Chief Debra Rubin. To graphic designers Clarissa Hamilton, Janice Hwang, Dan Bocchino, Dani Shetrit, and Chuck Rosenthal: Thank you for your patience, your dedication to your craft, and your sense of humor. To Editorial Adviser Abby Meth Kanter, thank you for your guidance and for helping us get through each week. Talk about an unsung hero.
And a special thank you to the entire staff of The Jewish Week, especially Gary Rosenblatt, Rich Waloff, Rob Goldblum, and Andrew Silow-Carroll, for your decision to invest in NJJN’s future. And to Gershon Fastow, who is doubtless about to taunt me with an email informing me that “The Jewish Week is done!”
And thanks to you, our readers, our Jewish community, for welcoming us into your homes each week. It’s been an honor, and we hope you’ll miss us as much as we already miss you.