Gabriel Greschler on one of his first reporting expeditions for J., to a Wilderness Torah retreat.
Gabriel Greschler on one of his first reporting expeditions for J., to a Wilderness Torah retreat.

Working at J. has taught me what really matters as a journalist

I was a college senior, hungry for a foot into the journalism world. “Are there any jobs available?” I cold emailed J. editor Sue Fishkoff in April 2019.

“Your timing is excellent,” she quickly replied. A position had just opened up. By the start of July, I was J.’s new editorial assistant. And by the start of the next year, a staff writer.

That cold email was the first lesson I learned as a professional journalist: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Other wisdom would come my way, too.

I learned how to empathize as a reporter. Shortly after becoming a staff writer, I spoke to a man named Jason Herwill who was furloughed from his job in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“It’s very scary, the uncertainty,” he said, telling me that he had a wife and a 3-year-old to look after. “We basically have money to buy food a couple more times.”

It wouldn’t be the first time I encountered a disaster affecting our community. That August, I spoke to a woman in the Santa Cruz Jewish community who had lost her home in the CZU August Lightning Complex wildfire. It was the first time someone cried during one of my interviews.

These experiences, among others, taught me to be not just a proficient notetaker behind the phone or pen, but to be a human. People notice that.

I also learned what digging for an answer really meant. Shortly after the 2020 election, Jewish Republican and Democratic groups both came out touting the percentages of Jews nationwide who had voted for Trump or Biden. It wasn’t until I interviewed several experts in the field that the real numbers became more clear, based on a variety of factors specific to Jewish polling, such as whether cultural Jews are included, not just religious Jews.

If there is one thing I’ve learned working at a Jewish publication, it’s that schmoozing is what we do.

Some of the best journalism, in my view, does not simply repeat what the sources say, but strives to get to the heart of the matter. It’s something I’m still learning how to do.

Finally, I learned to pursue stories about the “little guys” or, to use a more updated term, the “people, places and topics that are largely ignored.” This idea was first pointed out to me by acclaimed investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, who said during our 2020 interview in Berkeley that reporting is often like a kid’s soccer match: Everyone is following the same ball.

I’ve definitely been like one of those kids. Sometimes it’s hard not to be. But Lowell’s advice has often pushed me to look further, beyond the daily news cycle. Like when I profiled a 130-year-old synagogue in San Leandro that is making a comeback after struggling for years with membership. Or told the story of a 10-person shul in the Gold Country that is consolidating but whose members still hope for some semblance of an enduring community. Or wrote about the local man who tried to convince officials in San Francisco to change the name of Stow Lake, named after an antisemite.

This newspaper has been my home for the last 2 years, and I am sad to say goodbye as I wade into the waters of daily metro reporting. But if there is one thing I’ve learned working at a Jewish publication, it’s that schmoozing is what we do, and I know I’ll always be part of the mishpachah even after I’m gone.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.