Getting the story right

The first time N. David Gross called me into his office, it was to fire me.

N. David Gross. (photo credit: IPPA)
N. David Gross.
(photo credit: IPPA)
The first time N. David Gross called me into his office, it was to fire me.
I had been working as a graphic artist at the weekly In Jerusalem supplement for only a few months in 1990, slightly less time than Gross had been working as editor-in-chief of the paper. He may have not been in the position long, but for me, it could have been a decade. The wiry figure with the bushy, white beard, imposing scowl and ubiquitous sweater vest seemed to have his face chiseled in stone as he beckoned for me.
“Budget cuts,” “No other choice,” and “Don’t really know your work” were some of the phrases I picked up from his muffled voice and clipped British accent as he appeared to be looking for loose threads on the sweater vest. I wasn’t sure whether he was shy or simply loathe to tell somebody he was losing his job.
When I embellished the truth a little and suggested that I knew more than I really did about the upcoming field of newspaper computerization and changes that were about to implemented to The Jerusalem Post’s editorial operation, he looked up for the first time and engaged me with his eyes.
I not only saved my job, but Gross ended up sending me, along with two other Post staffers, to Boston for a course in the new editorial and graphics system that we would then teach to the staff back in Jerusalem.
I tend to think he acquiesced not because he was gullible, but because he astutely recognized some vague potential in my youthful facade that could serve the paper’s interests in the long run.
The next time Gross called me into his office was late one afternoon a year or so later, long after my return from Boston and the successful integration of the new system and our not-so-computer-savvy staff. By then, I had slowly begun to understand most of what of he said. And as always, he avoided the chitchat and got straight to the point.
“How many times did you listen to the news today on the radio?” he asked.
I answered truthfully – twice, once at home in the morning and then on the bus in the afternoon on the way into the Post for my news layout evening shift.
“Good – tomorrow night, you’re night editor,” he said curtly, motioning me to leave without further explanation.
I later found out that our regular night editor was away, and the deputy night editor had been called to IDF reserve duty. So once again, with either a belief that I could rise to the task, or a sense of desperation so great that the first warm body would do, Gross put his trust in me.
He was patient with my mistakes, fatherly in his advice, stingy in his praise, good-humored in his criticism and always honest, dignified and committed to getting the story right.
Within a year, he had moved on, entering a retirement that had been delayed when he had been asked – and agreed – to take on the position of editor-in-chief following the great Post editorial upheaval of 1989, in which around 20 senior staffers left the paper.
His editorial tenure was a daunting transition period, full of unrest, animosity and uncertainty. And Gross did his best to close wounds, remold the staff and forge a new semblance of normalcy to an always abnormally active news room. Probably nobody could have done it better.
I was always grateful to him for giving me the chance to prove myself as a journalist, and we stayed in touch sporadically over the years – a phone call for Rosh Hashana; an email with one of those always to-the-point criticisms of something he saw in the paper that he continued to read daily; a thoughtful note of congratulations over a promotion.
Those notes will stop now, but the legacy of professionalism, dedication and love of journalism that he imbued the Post with will carry on.