Rosenberg Takes the Jewish Journal Helm

 

When Steve Rosenberg was seven years old, he had a friend who delivered newspapers for The Boston Globe. He tagged along, reading the paper before throwing it on the front doorstep. That early experience opened his eyes to the fact that there was a “whole, big world outside of my neighborhood that came in a newspaper every day,” Rosenberg said.

 

His fascination with journalism grew, reaching a peak during his teenage years with the Watergate political scandal and the crucial roles played by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two young Washington Post reporters whose determination and relentless hard work broke the story that toppled Nixon’s presidency.

 

“Watergate showed just how important the free press was to our country, and that with a little digging, a young reporter could help protect our democracy. I knew then that I wanted to be a journalist,” he said.

 

Rosenberg made that dream a reality, graduating from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a major in journalism in 1981. Thirty years later, after returning to school, he earned an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College.

 

And as of its May 4, 2017 issue, he is the new publisher and editor of the Jewish Journal. “I’m excited. This is a dynamic and thoughtful community. And, in this time and age, committed journalism is needed more than ever,” Rosenberg said. “We give voice to a population and a demographic that otherwise might be ignored, and also serve as a watchdog of the government.”

 

Rosenberg will bring decades of experience to his role, including 15 years as a staff writer and columnist for The Boston Globe and three years as editor of The Jewish Advocate. His articles and columns have been broadly published in the US, and abroad in The International Herald Tribune, Ha’aretz Newspaper and The Jerusalem Post.

 

The Jewish Journal is a 40-year-old nonprofit based in Salem that reaches 17,000 homes semimonthly. Rosenberg is its fifth editor since 2014, and Bob Rose, president of the Journal Board of Overseers, thinks he is an excellent match. “Steve has a long and distinguished career as a journalist, has very deep personal roots in the North Shore and is intensely committed to Judaism,” he said.

 

Rosenberg intends to bring strong, quality journalism that reflects the greater Jewish community of the North Shore to the Jewish Journal. He plans to make the paper “newsier” with opinion and editorial pages “filled with experts who base their pieces entirely on facts.”

 

Lynn Nadeau, of Marblehead, has been a Jewish Journal board member for 12 years and is delighted with Rosenberg’s hire. “He is a real journalist, not an advocate. He chooses his words carefully, with nuance and thought. He will uphold the values we hold: accuracy, fairness, balance, inclusiveness, civility, transparency and integrity,” she said.

 

According to Rose, Rosenberg’s duties as publisher/editor include producing print and web versions of the Jewish Journal; supervising and leading the staff; interfacing with the Board; engaging with the Jewish community in the broadest sense; and inspiring philanthropy and development.

 

“Rosenberg is a good fit because he understands that the Jewish Journal serves a niche. Hopefully, he will fill the paper with local stories that were always the meat of the paper,” said Barbara Schneider, who was the Jewish Journal’s publisher from 2004 — 2015.

 

“As publisher/editor, he has a particularly challenging role,” she continued. “The publisher’s duty is to keep a nonprofit paper on a solid financial footing while being an outreach ambassador to the community. His role as editor is to fill the paper with interesting and frequently controversial stories. Sometimes these roles conflict.”

 

Rosenberg thinks of himself as a writer and storyteller above all, and he enjoys the interview process, especially its qualities of intimacy and inherent trust. He is continuously captivated by what he learns when he spends an hour sitting and listening to someone tell their story, and by the similarities he sometimes finds with his own life. “It’s rewarding to publish these pieces because they help serve as common threads, and remind us that we have much more in common with our neighbors than we thought,” he said.

 

Many of Rosenberg’s articles for the Boston Globe chronicled life in the Greater Boston suburbs, giving voice to commonplace people. Fishermen, gang members, suburban moms, rabbis and veterans are among the hundreds his columns brought to life. His most recent book, “Middle Class Heroes: Voices from the Boston Suburbs” is an anthology of almost 90 of these columns.

 

In his new role as publisher/editor, he intends to bring similar personal stories to the Journal, focusing on people who work tirelessly in the Jewish community, and on everyday relatives who help sustain their familes and Judaism. “These pieces provide a glimpse of our shared values and priorities,” he said. “We are documenting a time and place in American history.”

 

Mark Arnold, Journal publisher/editor from 3003-2006 and a longtime journalist, applauds Rosenberg’s commitment to reflect the diversity of the local Jewish community and to write about “real people doing real things.” “Steve will be honest about the challenges our institutions face and show where we are and aren’t making progress,” he said.

 

He added that Rosenberg has the qualities needed for the position: a clear vision of the role the Jewish Journal should play in the community; a set of values and goals to steer by; patience, diplomacy, creativity, and open mind, and — thick skin. “I think Steve has been waiting his whole life for a challenge like this,” Arnold said.

 

Rosenberg and his wife, Dr. Devorah Feinbloom, a chiropractor and director of Marblehead Natural Healing, have one son Aaron, currently enrolled in Clark University’s Masters in Business Administration program.

 

Rosenberg is passionate about Israel and Judaism, and he travels to Israel a couple of times a year, where he especially loves spending time in the desert. Closer to home, he also enjoys walking and relaxing in the woods and on the beaches near his home. He has played guitar since childhood and recently bought an electric drum set. He also studies the Torah and finds Rashi’s commentaries particularly intriguing.

 

Asked which of his many accomplishments — journalist, photographer, documentary filmmaker, author, editor, TV station manager, producer — he is proudest of, Rosenberg doesn’t hesitate. “My family is the most meaningful and really, the only lasting accomplishment in my life,” he said. He also mentioned a strong group of friends from kindergarten he is in regular contact with, and whom he loves.

 

“Relationships keep me going; all else is temporary,” he said.

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Former Czech Spy Tells It Like It Was

SSU panelists warn about dangers of “fake news”

Shelley A. Sackett

Dillon and M-B

Peggy Dillon, SSU Associate Professor and panel moderator, listens as Dr. Martin-Bittman talks about his years as a Czech spy.

 

What do a former Czech spy who served as a post-war intelligence officer specializing in disinformation for the Czech Intelligence Service and Earth Day have in common? According to Peggy Dillon, Associate Professor of Communications at Salem State University and member of the SSU Earth Day Committee, everything.

 

“This year’s Earth Day theme on campus is ‘It’s Your World, It’s Your Future: Get Involved,’” she said. “I thought a panel about media literacy — and fake news and disinformation in particular — would be a timely topic for media consumers in general, as well as for environmentalists.”

 

Dillon had agreed to create and moderate a panel about media literacy as part of SSU’s 2017 Earth Days events. The panelists would examine how disinformation and fake news have permeated the media landscape and discuss media-literacy strategies for telling the difference between truth and fiction in the news.

 

She titled the panel, “How to Recognize Disinformation and Fake News: Be a Media-Literate Advocate for your Cause” and invited SSU Communications professors Jane Regan and Cindy Vincent to participate. Regan, a lecturer in Multimedia Journalism who is also an investigative journalist, would address “both-siderism” and mainstream vs. “alternative” media coverage, particularly of environmental topics. Assistant professor Vincent would discuss filter bubbles, media distractions and the ability to discern credible sources.

 

But she still wanted a third panelist to round out the discussion.

 

As part of her “newly ramped-up political activism” following the 2016 elections, Dillon started attending meetings at the Rockport Unitarian Universalist Church of like-minded concerned citizens. There she heard about Lawrence Martin-Bittman, a Rockport resident whom a member knew from church.

 

Né Ladislav Bittman in 1931 in Prague, Martin-Bittman defected to the United States in 1968 after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Prior to that, he was an expert in creating and disseminating Soviet propagandistic disinformation, spreading anonymously and deliberately distorted information to deceive and manipulate public opinion.

 

“I met Dr. Martin-Bittman for lunch and heard his life story, and immediately invited him to join the panel. He agreed,” Dillon said. After all, who better to address the topic of fake news and disinformation than one who not only could talk the talk, but had also — literally — walked the walk?

 

And for nearly thirty minutes on Tuesday, over 30 students, faculty members and visitors were captivated by the 86-year-old ex-spy’s stories about how he came to be recruited by the Czech Secret Service and the kinds of disinformation campaigns he engaged in.

 

“It’s nice to be back again on academic soil,” the former Boston University professor and author said.

 

As a teenaged student of international law at Charles University in Prague, Martin-Bittman anticipated a career as a diplomat. Instead, upon graduation, he and 37 of his 42 fellow classmates were “invited” to the Central Committee of the Communist Party headquarters where they were told they would work in the Czech Intelligence Service. “I didn’t even know Czechoslovakia had an intelligence service,” he said.

 

Overnight, he became a spy.

 

Over the course of 14 years as an operative, he had 30 names and supervised hundreds of other agents, eventually becoming deputy commander of the disinformation department, leaking carefully constructed false messages to reporters in order to influence people and politicians.

 

In 1968, when the Soviet invasion Czechoslovakia effectively ended the Prague Spring and his country’s brief attempt to enact democratic reforms, Martin-Bittman realized he had spent the last14 years of his life “basically working for the Russians.” He decided to quit and defected to the United States later that year.

 

He was tried in absentia in a military court in Czechoslovakia, which convicted him of treason. “I was treated as a defector and hunted for decades,” he said. One of his students at Boston University was even recruited to spy on him, he discovered later to his dismay. His death sentence was recently revoked. “I never thought the Communist regime would collapse in my lifetime,” he said.

 

No stranger to the concept of “fake news”, Martin-Bittman is alarmed by the current state of global media with reports of cyber warfare, information weaponization and information wars. “We live in a world of deception and manipulation,” he warned.

 

“For the United States or any other democratic country with a free press, spreading propagandistic information might be a dangerous, self-destructive weapon, a ticking time bomb that can explode in the perpetrator’s backyard,” he continued.

 

He is quite concerned about the Russian doctrine of information warfare and its implications in the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2016, which he feels demonstrated the importance of developing new defenses in protecting the American democratic system. “Misinformation is information that is bad, wrong or mistaken. Disinformation is deliberate and malicious,” he said.

 

Dillon believes journalists and media educators have an important role to play right now in helping the public understand the difference between fact and fiction in their media diet, and she hopes people came away from the panel discussion with a heightened awareness about the prevalence of false or distorted information in our media diet. Martin-Bittman goes one step further.

 

“People must realize that there is an urgent need to educate the new generation of journalists about the new information environment and the dangers of disinformation,” he said. “The best protection against any kind of propaganda is strong analytical press capable of professional analysis of all suspicious information, wherever it comes from.”