Will stay through transition
Marc Klein (left) interviews Israel’s then-foreign minister (and later prime minister) Yitzhak Shamir
in Jerusalem in the early 1980s
By Dan Pine
After nearly 28 years at the helm, j. editor and publisher Marc S. Klein has announced he will step down.
Klein, 62, said his retirement will take effect later this year once j.’s board of directors hires a new editor and allows for a transition period. A search committee has been formed and will begin screening applicants as soon as possible. Nora Contini, j.’s longtime associate publisher, will assume the role of publisher.
Marc S. Klein
Klein, who is only the fifth editor in the paper’s 116-year history, said his reasons for retiring are all about improving quality of life.
“I’ve been on a daily or weekly deadline professionally from the day I left college in 1970 until today,” he said. “I need a rest because of health issues, and I’m looking forward to exercising more, reading more and cooking rather than just eating.”
In a statement, the j. board said, “Marc has worked heroically for 27 years, meeting weekly deadlines and putting out a newspaper which consistently has been recognized as one of the best Jewish community newspapers in the entire country.”
The decision to retire did not come easily.
“I wrestled with it a lot,” Klein said. “There were times I thought I wanted to make it to 30 years. Then I realized, who am I setting records for?”
Said j.’s board president Dan Leemon, “I can’t think of anyone who has served in one way this long in the Bay Area Jewish community, and he is owed an awful lot of appreciation for how the newspaper has served the community.”
Klein’s tenure at j. (known as the Jewish Bulletin before 2003) has been marked by tremendous change in the Bay Area Jewish community, changes he is proud to have covered since starting the job in January 1984. “It became a much stronger community, more involved with Israel, and overall more identified as a Jewish community,” he said.
When Klein arrived, the newspaper’s cramped offices in San Francisco’s Flood Building were stocked with manual typewriters and plenty of carbon paper. He said he found the publication to be lacking in any color or feeling of being in the Bay Area.
“The paper could just as well have been from Oklahoma or Nebraska. You wouldn’t even know that Berkeley was in the circulation area,” he said.
“It was a great challenge to take a paper that some people still called the ‘shmooze gazette’ and turn it into a publication that reflected the community it covered.”
Klein worked many years as a daily reporter and editor, becoming assistant managing editor of a major paper, the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia, when he was just 30, and he served two years as editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent before moving to San Francisco with his wife, Sandra, and two young daughters, Emily and Suzy.
He also brought his daily news sensibility, likening j. to “a daily that happened to publish only weekly … Every day had its deadlines, even if we didn’t print the paper that day.”
Among his proudest achievements was when j. became the first weekly Jewish newspaper in the country to go online, launching its Web version in July 1995 when the Internet was still called “cyberspace.” In a press release at the time, Klein lamented that “photos can take up to several minutes to download, making them impractical.”
Another milestone was the 2003 transition from newspaper to magazine format. Klein said the impetus for the change was to attract younger readers and publish a product more in keeping with the times.
“We felt it would make more sense delivering a weekly publication that looked like it belonged on the coffee table all week. It would be more attractive: a paper for the future rather than the past,” he said.
The paper continues to keep up with the changes in communication, from social media to electronic news delivery.
He also cited j.’s reporting of local hot-button issues, such as the controversy surrounding the screening of the documentary “Rachel” at the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
That incident sparked much debate and acrimony. “It revealed the differences in our community,” Klein noted, “differences many didn’t think existed. Ultimately it was perhaps good for the community, even though it was painful going through it.”
Issues surrounding Israel have been among the most contentious to cover, according to Klein. He said he is troubled by the “litmus test” quality of the subject within the Jewish community, and hopes that changes over time.
“You either support Israel, right or wrong, or you’re an enemy of the country,” he said. “It’s the hardest story for us to cover because we take criticism from all sides. For me as an editor I want to report what is going on, and not become part of it.”
At the same time, he noted, “while readers might not agree with us all the time, they respect us.”
Rabbi Camille Angel of S.F.’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav went a step further. With recent “great strides” made in LGBT equality, she said, Klein has been “the leader in setting expectations among the Jewish press worldwide — heightening our visibility as a community within the Jewish community, and making [LGBT issues] a Jewish cause, not merely a human rights issue.”
During his tenure, Klein represented j. on more than a dozen visits to Israel, as well as trips to the Soviet Union, Jordan, Egypt, Switzerland and Germany. He met nearly every Israeli prime minister in recent years. In 2007 he was in Sderot, Israel, when Hamas launched Kassam missiles, forcing the group of journalists to run for shelter. Klein also served as president of the American Jewish Press Association, winning re-election seven times.
Though j. (and the Bulletin) have seen good and bad economic times, the recent recession and general nosedive of the newspaper industry have taken their toll. Klein admitted the last few years have been the most economically challenging of his tenure.
“It’s gotten harder to publish the best possible paper when you are constantly worried about the bottom line week after week,” he said. “There’s nothing we’ve done to cause it. It’s a problem of fewer people reading, fewer young Jews identifying with the community.”
Despite the economic blows, Klein said the paper has never wavered in its mission to tell the stories that matter to the Jewish community: “We try to put out the best darn paper, with a small staff and limited resources, and when we do that I go home feeling good.”
In fact, during his 27 years, the Jewish Bulletin and j. have won numerous prizes, including a first-place Rockower Award to Klein for a 2007 story about traumatized children in Israeli towns besieged by rockets — though he said he never cared about the awards. Good journalism, he insisted, was always his goal.
“It’s nice to have icing on the cake, but I can eat it without the icing,” Klein said. “I cared that we were doing this service for the community.
“I was never one to rest on our laurels. Even today I don’t like to reminisce about one story being more important than another. I don’t want to be known for any one specific issue or one piece of history we covered. Instead I’d like to be known for consistently publishing one of the best Jewish papers in the country.”
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