Why I don’t have to resign

Larry Levin

BY LARRY LEVIN, PUBLISHER/CEO

Much has been made of the embarrassing and poorly contemplated column by Atlanta Jewish Times publisher Andrew Adler. Suggesting Israeli assassination of a United States president in an opinion piece is likely to get you in trouble.

So trouble it was, as Adler not only resigned from his own publication but indicated he would put it up for sale.

ADVERTISEMENT
New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

The first reaction for a fellow Jewish publisher might be to grimace and say, “There but for the grace of you-know-who go I.” But in fact, I worry about that aspect of my work a lot less than others, due to a factor that pervades everything we do at the Light. It’s called editorial oversight, and we take it awfully seriously.

The process begins with the premise that everything be read by multiple sets of eyes. News stories are read by several members of our editorial staff. Editorials are read by both staff and a committee. And columns we write are also seen by others before they’re published. If I write a column, you can be sure our Editor Ellen Futterman and Managing Editor Mike Sherwin give it a good going over before it lands in the paper or online.

But the responsibility doesn’t stop there. If those who read something that borders on inappropriate suffer silently for whatever reason – fear of repercussion by higher ups who apply different rules to themselves, for instance – then mere review will provide no oversight whatsoever.

I wrote a headline a couple weeks ago for an editorial that I thought was awfully clever. It was fun chortling to myself about my own ingenuity. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider sufficiently that the language was somewhat risque and could be considered rude or insulting by readers. Our staff felt emboldened to point that out, thank goodness, which was reflective of the environment we want to perpetuate.

“My way or the highway” doesn’t cut it in publishing. If Adler’s first error (and we simply don’t know) was that he failed to consider that his column would be seen as well over the top, that’s one thing (though it does strain credulity to think someone in such a position of responsibility wouldn’t inherently know that). But if he didn’t ask or get an honest opinion from his staff, that is where the big safety net was breached. I count on my staff to temper my not so uncommon enthusiasm for what I write.

Our approach hardly means we are free of risk or peril. Things most definitely can get through the filter, as typos and errant facts can sometimes do, and we do our best to acknowledge our mistakes. But our team has on several occasions in my tenure raised serious questions about content, both news and advertising, and when they do, we talk about the issues seriously and with as much objectivity as we can. That is our responsibility as journalists., Jewish or not. I sincerely hope that lesson is the one that lingers in the aftermath of the Atlanta situation.