The good old days

‘It is at one and the same time a page of history and wrapping for tomorrow’s fish. It reflects society and thus is used for years after by social and political historians as a picture of its times’

DAVID BAR-ILLAN in 1997 (photo credit: YA’ACOV SA’AR/GPO)
(photo credit: YA’ACOV SA’AR/GPO)
As a Jerusalem Post editor who had the privilege of working with 11 of the 14 editors- in-chief cited in our 85th anniversary issue (“Staying the course,” December 1), I’d like to praise two of them in particular, in their memories.
The first was David Bar-Illan, a Renaissance man who combined success as a concert pianist and as an outstanding journalist, but above all as a mensch. His tenure as editor-in-chief between 1992 and 1996 was marked by an unusual civility in the often caustic world of the newsroom. Perhaps due to his musical background, Bar-Illan valued harmony in the workplace, based on mutual respect.
This was expressed in the exceptional morale he inspired as a role model in so many areas. Born in Haifa, he went on to study music in New York at the famed Juilliard School, but returned to the nascent Israel to fight in the War of Independence. A second career in journalism in the US prepared him for the challenges of leading The Jerusalem Post during the ill-fated Hollinger era, but did not account for the farsightedness of his vision.
This was reflected in two major accomplishments. In 1995 Bar-Illan realized the potential for what some in management referred to as “that Internet thing.” He approved the creation of the Post Internet site and appointed me its founding editor at a time when it was one of the first dozen news sites on the Internet.
This was a time of pioneering at the Post, where it was initially doubted that the Internet would catch on and the new edition was considered “an experiment.” In 1995 it was mainly a one-man operation produced after the night news shift, which lasted from 5 p.m. to midnight, and went on most often to 3 a.m., due to the infancy of the technology at the time.
Bar-Illan also had the vision to expand the paper’s relationship with a growing new readership, the Evangelical Christian Zionist community. His association with Dr. Mike Evans broadened the appeal of the Post and laid the foundation for Evans’s creation of the iconic Friends of Zion Museum in Israel’s capital, the flagship of Christian Zionism in Israel today.
Despite his accomplishments in the world of classical music, Bar-Illan was no snob. He even welcomed the creation of the Post editorial staff’s rock band, The Grateful Deadlines. The short-lived group was a morale booster in difficult times.
Bar-Illan left the paper to devote his journalistic talents to spokesmanship for Israel in the Prime Minister’s Office, where he served until 1999, giving hundreds of media interviews. Until his untimely death of a heart attack in 2003, he wrote occasional columns for the Post, his journalistic legacy.
A SECOND very special former editor- in-chief was N. David Gross, the editor who first hired me in 1980 and then invited me back to the Post a decade later after a hiatus in television production.
Gross was an editor’s editor, with expertise in every aspect of newspaper production, which in 1980 was before computers came to the Post. In the good old days, we edited copy by hand using manual typewriters.
Above all, Gross shared his vast experience as a mentor to others and encouraged budding journalists to try new beats, sometimes made necessary by the tragic death of a colleague. As life inevitably brought such changes, Gross helped me make the transition from editing news and features to short terms as labor reporter and health reporter, before becoming chief copy editor.
Gross had a positive perspective on the role of the Post which he bequeathed to all of us. “It is at one and the same time a page of history and wrapping for tomorrow’s fish. It reflects society and thus is used for years after by social and political historians as a picture of its times. That gives us an obligation to be accurate and truthful, and warns us to be cautious in our predictions.”
As I approach my retirement from the Post at the end of the month after a cumulative 25 years, I look back with gratitude for the opportunity to work with the A-team of English journalism in this country. We were well served by Bar-Illan’s guidance and Gross’s steady encouragement and unfailing optimism, encapsulated in his favorite phrase, “We’ll make a perfect paper tomorrow.”
The writer is the Post’s editorial page co-editor.