Steinhardt Severs Forward Connection


Turmoil continued at the Forward newspaper this week as Jewish philanthropist and co-owner Michael Steinhardt decided to stop sinking his millions into the weekly.

The news follows last week’s resignation of Steinhardt’s partner, editor Seth Lipsky, who 10 years after launching the English edition was reportedly forced out by the paper’s liberal-minded Forward Association board because of his neo-conservative political views.

Lipsky’s resignation was announced by Harold Ostroff, chair of the board of directors of Forward Newspaper LLC.

"An agreement has been entered into providing for the resignation of Seth Lipsky as editor and chief executive of the Forward effective May 25, 2000, the paper’s tenth anniversary," Ostroff said in a press release.

Ostroff told The Jewish Week Tuesday that an agreement is nearly complete to have Steinhardt dissolve the partnership and sell back his 50 percent ownership in the paper to the Forward Association.

"Michael has agreed to sell … and the Forward has agreed to purchase it," Ostroff said. "Hopefully it will be consummated in a short period. At this moment the Forward is undertaking to carry on by itself."

Ostroff declined to reveal the selling price.

Steinhardt, a former hedge-fund manager who invested millions in the paper over the last several years, did not return several phone calls.

Forward managing editor Ira Stoll said Tuesday the newspaper staff had not been notified about the impending sale. He said that at a staff meeting last week, management told employees "they have made arrangements to continue the paper at its current level of deficit for three years."

An official at the independent weekly, which reportedly has been losing about $2 million a year, has begun a search for a new editor.

It’s not clear what the loss of Steinhardt’s millions will mean for the future of the paper, a grandchild of the Yiddish-language Forverts, a must-read daily for East European Jewish immigrants in America in the early 1900s.

A champion of the Jewish labor movement, the Forverts boasted a daily circulation of about 250,000 in the 1920s. With the passing of the Yiddish-speaking generation, the Forverts survived as a small weekly until Lipsky launched the English edition in 1990.

Stoll said Lipsky, a former member of the politically conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, "is not giving interviews."

While Lipsky’s resignation was attributed in the press to ideological differences, others say the paper’s heavy financial losses, the widespread criticism of its sensationalist style and its merging of news and opinion were factors.

Under Lipsky’s reign, the Forward developed a reputation as a paper that regularly irked the Jewish establishment. A recent headline, "If Police Spot a Clown in the Capitol, It Might Be Steve Solender on the Job," referred to the president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, triggering outrage among some 39 Jewish organization executives.

But the paper has also won praise for its cultural coverage and for discovering some good writers. And some observers saw danger signs in Lipsky’s resignation. Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman said he is "very concerned" about editors being forced out because their editorial opinions differ with their publishers.

"This is the best career move Lipsky has ever had," said one Jewish journalist of the ouster. "Now he’ll be a martyr and his accomplishments at the Forward will be exaggerated exponentially."