He traded Paris for Hackensack? Really? Well, not exactly. As global editions editor for The New York Times, Martin Gottlieb was not living in France, just traveling there several times a year, from his home in lower Manhattan to the office of The International Herald Tribune. Then in January, he became editor of The Record, the northern New Jersey daily, which, in fact, is no longer in Hackensack. The Record was Gottlieb’s first newspaper, 1971 to 1973. He went on to a somewhat restless 41-year career—two stints at the New York Daily News (the second as managing editor); a two-year cup of coffee as editor of The Village Voice (in the late 1980s); and three distinct shifts at the Times. He is known as a journalist whom other journalists enjoy working with—and working for. The Record, meanwhile, seems energized. Mike Hoyt, CJR’s executive editor, spoke with Gottlieb in May.
Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker told students at Yale: “Newspapers are kind of dreary, depressed places.” What do you think?
I put myself in the mind of a young woman who came here to give us some advice about how to proceed digitally. She looked out over our newsroom and said, “What a vibrant place this is!” Everyone was standing at their desks, talking about the news of the day and talking about what they were doing. I was seeing our newsroom through somebody else’s eyes, someone who picked up on the buzz that is the air here every day. There is great young talent here, there is senior talent that is as good as anyone in the country, and there’s a commitment to delivering news that’s important to people, exciting, alive in the writing and fun to read. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
There are places now, given all of the economic pressures, that have to be dispirited. There have been bankruptcies and changes of ownership that have to leave people unmoored. But if Gladwell is going to write off newspapers as a class of organizations, that should be ignored in its entirety.
How’s this one doing economically?
I think the Web—the number of unique users, clicks, all of that—is growing seriously [10.5 million page views for NorthJersey.com in May, 1 million for the mobile version]. There is a substantial amount of advertising on the website. The family ownership [four generations of the Borg family) doesn’t have to be here. This was a coveted prize that all sorts of newspaper chains approached the family to buy, and it’s too much in their blood to give up. The newspaper has a sister newspaper in the adjoining county, the Passaic Herald News. They’ve purchased something like 50 weekly papers in the area. They’ve started a high-end magazine called 201 that’s such a success that it’s had spin-offs, 201 Family, 201 Health and so forth, all doing well. There’s a second website, called Bergen.com, which is doing pretty well in its own right. The family also owns a big printing plant. In the aggregate, what they’ve done is embrace their locality in a deepening way.
Why did you decide to come back to The Record?
It’s a big jump, coming here. In a weird way, it was a very comfortable jump for me. We did a lot of wonderful things at the IHT, in my estimation. We made the paper better. At a point, I said, “I’ve done what I can do, it’s about time to come back home.” One of my good friends and mentors at the Times, John Darnton, once a year, he would ask, “So, do you consider yourself a reporter or an editor?” And the first four or five years we were together, I’d say, “You know, I like this, but in my heart I’m still a reporter.” By the sixth and seventh year, I had to say, “You know, I’m really an editor now.” The experience at the IHT only reinforced that.
When this possibility came up at The Record, I felt it would give me a chance to test my instincts fully, as an editor, and to be in charge of a news organization with a journalistic heart. The old slogan of this paper was “Friend of the People It Serves.” I could feel it; from my formative experience here 40 years ago, I felt that after all this time, I still knew it well.