Hard news, redesign transform Bulletin

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Community — that's what the Jewish Bulletin has always meant to me.

As a member of the board of directors in the early 1980s, I consistently felt an acute sense of possibilities — what could be done, who could be reached. The news almost called out to be written.

But the Bulletin had a limited budget, and did the best it could in a very simple format. Almost every different Jewish organization had a representative on the board. The editor at the time was a colorful journalist from the old school — he'd have meetings, put out the paper and shmooze.

The Bulletin had been around for many years and gone through several different incarnations. The Jewish community in the Bay Area was also well established, but it was growing and changing in very sharp yet subtle ways.

Those changes took shape in a detailed demographic study that was commissioned and underwritten by the Jewish Community Federation, which showed a wide spectrum of Jews: newcomers hungry to make Jewish connections; families with young children; people who had moved away and then returned; senior citizens and shut-ins; young professionals; successful (and aspiring) middle-aged career people; and, of course, single Jews and unaffiliated Jews who desperately needed a good recipe for latkes.

All these readers — accustomed to daily papers, radio and television — needed to learn Jewish news in the same way they learned about daily events, politics or Michael Jackson.

For the Bulletin, it was time for a change.

I was part of a search committee that scoured the country for the best journalistic talent that could be found. Out of that search came an intelligent, ambitious young editor-publisher, Marc Klein from Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent; a talented associate publisher, Nora Contini; and a wise and highly capable managing editor, Sherwood "Woody" Weingarten.

They assembled a staff of enthusiastic editors, reporters, photographers and advertising and circulation specialists.

The atmosphere was charged with excitement and the Bulletin's changes came fast. The paper got a total redesign that clearly spelled "news": Hard news was handled the same way as at the dailies; reporters were assigned to cover stories all over the Bay Area.

Finally, the board was reshaped to highlight professions and talents that could help support and promote the growth of the newspaper.

And now it was definitely a newspaper. Its new look and feel sent shock waves rippling across the community. Longtime readers were either delighted or outraged — but the dramatic response proved that the paper was being talked about and, above all, read!

I stayed on the board and also, since I was a writer and filmmaker, began contributing film reviews. In the space of several months I was able to completely decimate Paul Newman in the Bulletin's pages ("Harry and Son" — you shouldn't know from it!), profile Milt Wolf from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, interview the producers of "Seeing Red" and journalistically wander through "The Hotel New Hampshire."

In 1987, when Nora Contini took a leave of absence to have a baby, I became the Bulletin's acting associate publisher, and got even closer to the paper's day-to-day operations.

I found that as the editorial content of the paper had expanded, the advertising reach of the paper increased as well. This made sense, as the paper was serving more readers with more needs. The advertising staff, which was organized into geographical and product categories, constantly came in and out of my office with questions and ideas.

Phones rang; the editors kept up a loud dialogue with everyone on staff and the whole place took on a feeling of immediacy and purpose.

Every Jewish organization wanted a voice in the paper. The letters-to-the-editor column became a lively exchange of viewpoints. Every issue drew fervent reactions from readers. ("You call that a front-page story?!" "What happened to the history column?" "I like what you're doing — keep up the good work!")

As time went by, I became director of marketing and communications for the Jewish Federation. Keeping in touch with the Bulletin was also part of the job: exchanging information, debating, the full range of Jewish colloquy.

Now, as I have developed my own business, and I've seen my own daughter enter her first-grade class at Brandeis Hillel, I've also watched the Bulletin embark on even further phases — yet again a new look, new headquarters, even its own Web page on the Internet.

It's nice to know that if Jewish news happens anywhere in the Bay Area or the world it's going be covered in the Jewish Bulletin.

The newspaper's text and photos capture so much: special education programs caught in a child's smile; seniors' art programs; synagogue happenings; special events; food for the stomach and for the mind. Beyond just reporting news, the Bulletin has created a home base for the ever-changing, ever-restless, questing, growing, fervent Jewish voices of the Bay Area.

In recreating itself, the Bulletin has helped to both shape and define what is our own very unique Jewish community.

I've enjoyed playing a part in it. Congratulations — here's to the Bulletin's next 100 years!