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Left-leaning Columnist Named Editor at Forward, Vows ‘fair Hearing’ for All

June 23, 2000
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The new editor of the Forward newspaper said the paper’s ideology is likely to change under his stewardship.

“I’ve been reading in the papers that Seth Lipsky is a conservative,” said J.J. Goldberg, referring to the controversial former editor of American Jewry’s most famous newspaper, at last Friday’s news conference announcing his appointment. “Most of my friends say I’m pretty liberal. I’ll be writing the editorials, so you’re probably going to see a difference.”

Lipsky, who considered the militant founder of Revisionist Zionism, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, to be a personal hero, was forced out in May after a decade as the English-language paper’s editor due to long-standing ideological differences between him and the left-leaning Forward Association, which publishes the paper.

Under Lipsky’s reign, the paper earned a reputation for its extensive arts coverage and aggressive — some said sensationalist — news reporting. In the Forward’s pages, the Jewish establishment came under constant criticism for what Lipsky saw as its liberal ideology and clandestine operations.

Goldberg, the author of “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment” and a former managing editor at both the Forward and the New York Jewish Week, said he wants to make the weekly newspaper one that chronicles “the lives of ordinary people” and speaks “in a voice that gives at least everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Goldberg, an alumnus of the labor Zionist Habonim-Dror youth movement and a former member of a kibbutz, said he will bring a different political outlook.

As he outlined his vision for the Forward, Goldberg — who will begin on July 1 — appeared careful neither to criticize Lipsky nor offend the Forward Association members who sat beside him. He praised both Lipsky and the Yiddish Forward’s founding editor, Abraham Cahan, saying, “I’m stepping into some large shoes.”

Founded by Cahan in 1897, the Yiddish Forward at one time had a daily circulation of 250,000.

Asked whether the tone of the Forward would be sensationalist under his editorship, Goldberg, 50, said, “I want to tell the truth, but I don’t want to humiliate anyone.”

He added that the press should “call the powerful to account,” let readers know how communal dollars are being spent and “tell it straight,” but said he does not want to “call names.”

Goldberg, whose weekly columns have appeared in Jewish newspapers across the United States, said he hopes to boost popular awareness of the Forward and turn it into a publication that is “about the actions of the powerful and the lives of the ordinary.”

“It’s going to be funnier,” he said. “We’re going to talk about things Jews care about, whether or not the rabbis say they should.”

Under his watch, the Forward will be “the place where Jews fight it out with each other” and where everyone gets “a fair hearing,” said Goldberg.

He also plans to strengthen ties between his paper and the Yiddish and Russian Forwards.

For the most part, all three papers print different stories.

Goldberg said he does not share Lipsky’s dream of turning the paper into a daily.

“I don’t have a big hang-up about dailies,” said Goldberg. “I’ve been doing weekly journalism most of my career and love it. It gives you time to look at things and develop a perspective on them.”

Goldberg’s responsibilities will lie solely on the editorial side of the paper.

“I don’t want any part of the business end,” he said.

The paper’s circulation is below 30,000 and it has suffered annual losses of approximately $2 million. However, officials with the Forward Association said that advertising revenues have gradually been increasing. They said they will name a separate business manager shortly.

Lipsky’s departure spurred philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, a joint owner of the Forward, to sell his share in the paper to the Forward Association.

Sam Norich, general manager of the association, said the sale is still expected, but that Steinhardt will likely continue to serve as vice chairman of the paper.

Steinhardt, who recently invested in Jewish weeklies in Atlanta and Detroit, did not attend the news conference.

Goldberg’s nationally syndicated columns will end once he begins his post at the Forward.

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