Journalism, specifically newspapers, lost a champion and I lost a friend and mentor Tuesday night when Jonathan Maslow lost his year-long battle with cancer.
Jonathan, 59, was assistant city editor at one of my former newspapers, the Herald News of West Paterson, NJ. But that experience doesn’t come close to describing his career. By the time that I interviewed him for the then-open position of features editor, Jonathan was a noted author, naturalist, environmentalist, filmmaker, world traveler and award-winning journalist and journalism educator. I new that he was something different when at the start of that interview he asked if “we were going to be long” and then summarily removed his shoes and made himself comfortable in his chair.
Thankfully, we didn’t hire him as features editor and in the coming years Jonathan became a senior and valued member of my team, a colorful leader in our newsroom and a mentor to dozens of young reporters.
Jonathan didn’t flaunt his career, rather choosing to teach and guide young reporters using their own experiences. He didn’t cite his experiences in
Bolivia Chile, Turkmenistan or his “8,000-mile journey through Russia’s remote provinces.” And, even after returning from shadowing an Iraqi-American making the dangerous journey back to Baghdad in the early days of the war, Jonathan didn’t express any sense of reporting seniority.
To say that he was a character based solely on his sitting in bare feet during his interview robs the rest of you of the entire experience that was Jonathan Maslow. Here was a guy who, in warm weather, routinely
road rode a second-hand bicycle (purchased at a local police auction) to work and in cold weather walked miles from his local home to the office wearing one of his many Russian-styled fur hats that could have likely housed a small family. His desk was a whirlwind of papers and books, assorted dead bugs mounted on index cards, organic foods, a reproduction of a nude painting, strange looking drinks housed in unusual bottles and a scary looking tumbler that he used to store the effluence from his chewing tobacco. He wrote (yes he used a computer, but when he could, Jonathan still wrote by hand) in colorful and visually striking style full of sweeping letters. He was an avid reader and seemingly always had newspaper clipping full of notations stuffed into books, pads or even his pockets.
Jonathan cared deeply about the communities we covered, but even more so for the reporters he worked with. Sure at times he raised his voice in that old-school journalism way and sure there were those who saw his mannerism as gruff and unpolished, but none could doubt his sincerity. He truly wanted his reporters to succeed and he celebrated their victories and mourned their defeats. He was the driving force behind the establishment of our best practices mailing list and was supporter of our coaching and feedback-based approaches.
For me, Jonathan was great team member and a better friend. While we didn’t always see eye to eye, he would always hear me out even when that meant hours of rambling. We stayed in touch and close even after I left the Herald News, as he struggled with the paper’s new leadership and as he launched his own online project. In recent years, we unfortunately talked less and less. The last time we spoke in person was before his formal diagnosis but after he had already started to feel sick. We sat in his home and talked about our individual lives and the future of the Herald News and journalism. He was optimistic about everything.
By the time we spoke next, just a few months ago, that optimism had faded and our conversation was punctuated more with anger and frustration then encouragement and understanding. It was a call that I did not enjoy but that was necessary and that I accepted. So when I received the call that he had died, it was far from unexpected.
Personally, I’ll remember Jonathan for the years that we spent working together, the lessons that he taught me and insights the he shared. I know that he was always thankful for the opportunities that journalism had given him and I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity to have had him as a colleague and friend.