I’m happy Sheldon Adelson wants to own a newspaper

This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

There is good news and bad news to report from the world of those whose business it is to relay the news. The good news is that the family of Sheldon Adelson, the casino-owning billionaire, bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest daily paper in Nevada, at the end of last year. The bad news, too, is that the Adelsons, who initially sought to hide their controlling interest in the Review-Journal, bought the paper.

The purchase is good news because it’s a vote of confidence in the continuing relevance of metropolitan newspapers. Adelson is one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful business tycoons, with a net worth estimated at more than $20 billion. He is such an important Republican funder that presidential candidates half-jokingly refer to their bids for his support as the “Adelson primary.” Adelson is also hugely influential in Israel, where he owns newspapers and is close to the prime minister, and in China, given his casino company’s dominant presence in Macau. The fact that Adelson (his sons, technically) deemed their hometown paper a coveted trophy (they paid an inflated $140 million for it) is a sign that newspapers may be making a comeback, at least as billionaire status symbols. Ten years ago when I worked at the Los Angeles Times we practically begged deep-pocketed Angelenos to make an offer for the paper, but to little avail.

Business tycoons, like the rest of us mortals, are susceptible to trends and fads, and when someone like Adelson considers newspapers as desirable a commodity as sports franchises or yachts, other prospective buyers tend to follow.  Indeed, Jeff Bezos’ 2013 purchase of the Washington Post may have done more than anything in a long time to make newspaper ownership cool again. And that’s what this industry needs—billionaires eager to rescue newspapers for their cool factor. Certainly no one has been rushing to buy them these days for their profitability.

The bad news, of course, is that Adelson’s injection of resources into the newspaper will likely come at the expense of its independence. Why, after all, does he really want to control the paper? You now have the wealthiest tycoon in the city’s leading industry controlling its largest news outlet. Adelson no doubt believes he is providing a civic good by ensuring the viability of the newspaper’s future, but he also has a strong agenda when it comes to litigation and regulatory issues affecting his casino empire, and how they are covered in the press. Even if Adelson turns out to be a more benign owner than liberal critics are assuming he will be, it’s safe to assume that the Review-Journal will not be known in coming years for its aggressive reporting on the casino industry or on Adelson’s business dealings in Macau.

By the same token, while Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post provided a needed boost in resources to one of the nation’s most important newspapers, it’s safe to assume that the Post won’t be taking the lead in covering how Amazon is altering the retail landscape and influencing legislation in various jurisdictions. But at least Bezos isn’t a Washington insider, giving his journalists a great deal more autonomy than their counterparts in Las Vegas are likely to enjoy. 

Debates about media ownership, about who controls the printing presses and airwaves, have long been an impassioned subject in this country, and for good reason. The First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to directly control who can or can’t own newspapers, but Washington has for decades imposed media ownership limits via its power to award licenses to run TV and radio news broadcasters. The somewhat antiquated media ownership rules, and the public debates around them, blindly champion the ideal of so-called localism, of preferring media owners embedded in the communities they cover.

Adelson’s ownership of the Review-Journal suggests the potential downsides to local ownership of media. So does history: It was the local ownership of many TV stations in the deep South that blocked national network coverage of the civil rights movement a half-century ago. 

At the same time, the critically-acclaimed movie Spotlight offers a veiled homage to the underappreciated advantages to out-of-town ownership. The movie, about the Boston Globe’s inquiry into the epidemic of Catholic priests abusing minors and its cover-up by the church, barely alludes to the fact that the newspaper was at the time owned by the The New York Times. Much of Spotlight’s dramatic tension revolves around the journalists’ willingness to stand up to, and upset, powerful local interests, but little is made of the fact that their institutional employer was insulated from such pressure by the fact that its owner wasn’t local.

Having worked at four different newspapers, I know there are always trade-offs when it comes to who owns media, and that the character of owners isn’t solely determined by whether they are local or out of town, individual or corporate. It is hard to come by truly judicious and independent owners who can act as truly neutral community arbiters. The profile of the ideal media owner, from a public interest standpoint, is an individual or family with deep roots in a community that is focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the news business, and won’t compromise that journalistic integrity to advance other business interests. Think of the Sulzbergers of New York or the Grahams of Washington.

Problem is, such owners are becoming an endangered species, given the challenges to the traditional newspaper business model. Many 20th-century newspaper-owning families were admirably principled and civic-minded, but it’s also true that they were making big profits that shored up their independence. In its present crisis, the newspaper business needs more people like Bezos and Adelson to enter the fray, to subsidize newsgathering with fortunes made in other businesses. The hope is that such individuals will do so because they believe it’s a worthy philanthropic cause, or because they think they can re-engineer the business model over time to make decent returns on a once distressed asset. 

The worry, however, is that new owners will wade into the business not for those reasons, but to help their own pre-existing agendas. Which is why we should all keep an eye on what happens in Vegas. Contrary to Sin City’s marketing slogan, whatever happens there with the Review-Journal and its new owner is unlikely to stay there. It will help shape a national trend.

Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where he is editorial director. He is also professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and a fellow at New America.

Why I love paper

It’s a fight to the death: As the digital revolution marches on, and more and more people do their reading on user-friendly digital devices, the end of paper’s 500-year reign seems to be at hand.

Here at The Jewish Journal, we don’t take this development lightly. We have a thriving Web site and great mobile apps, but, as with other newspapers, our paper continues to be our bread and butter. Digital revolution aside, advertisers still prefer to see their ads on paper — and who can blame them? No banner on a digital screen can compete with the power of a printed ad you can hold in your hands and that has the same visual prominence as editorial content.

For readers, though, it’s a different story.

Newspapers can’t compete with the extraordinary immediacy and convenience of the digital universe, where copy changes can happen instantly and at virtually no cost, and readers can surf billions of sites to their heart’s content. Whereas the printed word is permanent, the digital word is restless. It never stops moving. This is changing the way we read. Many experts don’t even call it reading — they call it scanning.

In this restless new world of surfers and scanners, does paper stand a chance?

As it happens, I got one answer to my question on New Year’s Eve, after I took my kids to see the movie “New Year’s Eve” and one of them asked, “Can we go to Toppings now?” (Talk about lifecycle events. Before procreating became a big part of my life, on any New Year’s Eve I might be slipping a $50 bill to the doorman of Studio 54 in New York City. Now I go to Toppings for kosher frozen yogurt).

Of course, I said yes. But little did I know that waiting for me at Toppings would be a subject for a future column: an abandoned newspaper, lying humbly on one of the counters. While my kids were debating the relative merits of pistachio, butter pecan and vanilla cheesecake, I looked at the paper and thought: “Hmm, a little cerebral boost to spark up my New Year’s Eve. Why not?”

It turns out the paper was the December issue of The Boiling Point, a monthly publication produced by the students of the Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School.

Well, maybe I was desperate for intellectual stimulation (sorry, kids), but I ended up taking the paper home and reading it cover to cover.

There were at least 30 interesting stories inside: a new Sephardic minyan at the school; the “slippery slope” of marijuana; a symposium with three local rabbis discussing the evolution of the Los Angeles Orthodox community; a school visit by 1960s civil rights “Freedom Rider” activist Earnest “Rip” Patton Jr.; a dissection of the tradition of gift-giving at Chanukah; the national scandal of cheating on the SATs; the Friday afternoon school tradition of “song, spirit and a whiff of chulent”; an environmental program in Israel to create a sustainable world, called “eco Israel”; a visit to a retro-design exhibition at LACMA; a student’s report from Occupy L.A. and whether anti-Semitism played a role; the modern relevance for teenagers of the school production of “Pride and Prejudice”; a lively debate on the merits of the school’s new advanced Judaic studies program, and so on. 

However great the content was, though, what got me was this: I would never have stumbled on all these stories had they not been printed on paper. Yes, paper — paper that I could see, hold, touch, feel and take home.

You can’t stumble on a digital screen and take it home with you. Digital screens can’t be coddled and treasured. They’re virtual, not real. They carry electronic flickers that can come and go at any moment.

Words printed on a page, however, are not flickers. They’re evidence of a commitment. A commitment by a group of writers and editors that says: “We have thought all these words through and are putting our ink where our mouths are. We believe in these words strongly enough that we are ready to make them permanent.”

This seriousness comes through to the reader, who, in turn, takes the words more seriously. Also, because printed words don’t come with “related links” that keep sucking you away from the main story, you’re more likely to read the whole story. Imagine that.

So, does all this mean paper will survive? Hardly. Some experts predict that newspaper readership will drop by one-third within 15 years and eventually become marginal, but for papers like The Jewish Journal, there’s a silver lining: Many experts also predict that local community papers with a well-defined niche will be a lot more resilient. The way I see it, it’s hard to beat the intimacy of a community paper — and, let’s face it, the digital screen can’t compete with paper on intimacy.

But maybe the best reason not to sit shivah yet for paper is its cutting-edge technology, which is perfect for impatient people who want everything now. Think about it: Here is a device that never crashes, needs no plugs, batteries, chargers or Wi-Fi codes, and loads instantly. 

And as if that weren’t enough, you’re even allowed to use it on Shabbat.

Cooperation and Consolidation Needed on Jewish Web

“The Internet will save you!” seems to be the refrain these days when it comes to the American Jewish media. But while many Jewish newspapers have grabbed for this lifeline, the process has been hectic and uncoordinated. We may be trying to save ourselves, but right now we’re floating around in private digital lifeboats, bailing water for dear life.

Where has this strategy gotten us? Where do we go from here?

To answer those questions, my company, 4Wall, in conjunction with its Jewish initiative, JInsider, recently released a report titled, “The Jewish Internet Metric Study,” which takes a business-oriented, top-level look at the Jewish Web. With this “McKinsey-style” analysis, the community can fully understand the business issues, the competitive situation and the hurdles and opportunities for sustainability on the Web. The report offers a basis for productive discussion on what individual or cooperative strategy might be considered.

The full report, which also includes analysis of Jewish educational and religious sites, and Jewish search terms, is available online at jinsiderblog.com/JIM.zip.

The problem for the American Jewish media is not quality of content — it’s scale and coordination. Just compare traffic and engagement patterns between several major Jewish news Web sites in the United States (JTA, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The New York Jewish Week, Forward, Jewish Exponent and The Jewish Press) and the most popular English-language sites of Israeli newspapers (Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post).

For a Web site to be self-supporting, it is critical to attract a significant enough share of clicks to sell a wide range of ad packages. JPost.com and Haaretz.com have achieved a high level of visitation. But the findings of several traffic-analyzing sites (Mondo Times, Echo Media, Alexa and Compete) suggest Jewish media outlets in the United States are lagging behind.

JTA.org and JewishJournal.com are at the head of the American pack, yet no clearly dominant or go-to source for American Jewish news has emerged online. The sum of all the major U.S. Jewish news sites, however, does approach the level of traffic generated by the Israeli sites.

Beyond just unique site traffic, visitor engagement patterns (generated by Quantcast) also suggest the American Jewish news industry is too fragmented on the Internet. Not only do visitors spend significantly more time per visit when perusing the Israeli sites, but many more of those visitors are regulars (people who visit more than once per month) and addicts (people who visit more than 30 times per month). Because of this “addict” phenomenon, a quarter of the traffic to Haaretz.com and JPost.com is generated by just 2 percent of their users. In contrast, only JTA.org has any sort of measurable traffic generated by addicts — 11 percent. A better strategy for U.S. sites would involve more regular updates (not weekly or semi-regularly) and a wider and deeper offering to encourage habitual readership.

The full study goes into detail about linkage, referrals and social analytics, but the takeaway point is this: The American Jewish media need to coordinate and combine their assets online. The Web is a winner-takes-most environment where a brand has to be dominant or readers will click elsewhere. While JTA and The Jewish Journal are market leaders whose growth is outstripping their American competitors (together, their traffic grew 85 percent from 2008 to 2009), currently there is no dominant U.S.-based Web site — and thus no economically sustainable one.

All the newspapers can still offer the great niche local coverage they do best, but in terms of an online brand, no one paper is strong enough.

By combining and centralizing the Web presence of many of these brands, media outlets would create advantages that would extend beyond the basic aggregation of their traffic. A centralized U.S.-based news site would benefit from economies of scale, a greater ability to attract the best talent, and stronger ad sales. A dominant Web brand would also enjoy exponentially increased readership and engagement. Significant traffic from regulars and addicts would be within reach.

With that in mind, the following strategies should be considered immediately:

• Create a cooperating organization with sufficient multi-year funding to help coordinate and integrate Internet media assets.

• Launch a Huffington Post-style (no politics implied) central Jewish news site. This site will house local brands and local coverage, as well as serve as a focal point for national and international Jewish news. The Jewish Journal’s new Web site is a good example of a basic implementation of this strategy. There may be opportunity to build off it.

• Use this centralization to create a definable, trusted brand for Jewish news. As part of this brand, develop well-known columnists who will serve as experts and go-to sources for the secular media.

• Create an advertising and marketing platform for the main and cooperating sites. This will reduce the cost to reach the Jewish community en masse and increase ad sales.

• Cross-promote education sites with the Jewish news industry.

• Secure widget and content distribution on other key Jewish Web sites.

• Deploy efficient tools such as a centralized calendar and newsletter system.

The remaining question is how to accomplish these goals. Unlike Condé Nast, which recently hired the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to look at its business, the Jewish community has no lead family or centralized management team for consultation and execution. Lacking a clear organizing body, a feasible way to bring this vision to reality is through a graduated ladder of involvement, where media outlets move from sharing articles and links to sharing promotional ads to increasing multi-site ad packages to sharing common databases and information to sharing resources such as reporters and facilities. Ultimately, the increasing cooperation would culminate in the creation of a holding company bringing multiple entities under one organizational roof.

What the community definitely needs is action. We encourage funders and media stakeholders to use this study as impetus to get together now. We may be concentrated on bailing water from our own leaky lifeboats, but together our lifeboats could make one watertight ship, ready to steam us ahead.

Mark Pearlman is the founder of 4Wall and JInsider. To contact him about his new study, please send an e-mail to {encode=”connect@jinsider.com” title=”connect@jinsider.com”}.

Oops…Our 20th

The news these days is gruesome, so it’s difficult to feel celebratory. The brutal slaying of Ilan Halimi, a young Jew, by a gang of mostly Muslim anti-Semitic thugs in Paris; the fatal riots over a Danish cartoon; the death toll in Iraq — no wonder I overlooked a sort of milestone last week: The Jewish Journal turned 20.

Yes, honey, I forgot our anniversary — call it a guy thing.

Jewish Publications of Los Angeles, Inc. put out the first Journal on Feb. 28, 1986. We’ve produced a weekly paper for the Jewish community every week since. Many L.A. Jewish papers have come and gone; we’re by no means the longest-lived.

A Santa Ana printer named Lionel Edwards founded Los Angeles’ first English-language Jewish paper in 1897, the B’nai B’rith Messenger. It continued publishing in various forms for just over a century. Publisher Herb Brin founded the Heritage in 1954, and that paper lasted until 2002.

A group of men with ties to The Jewish Federation created The Jewish Journal to serve as an independent source of news and analysis for the community. Founding editor Gene Lichtenstein set a high standard for the paper’s coverage. At a time when it was economically dependent on its then-largest subscriber, The Jewish Federation, he fought for the paper’s editorial independence. (The Journal and Federation ended their subscription relationship last year.) Gene also sought out polished writers and thinkers, such as Yehuda Lev and the much-missed columnist Marlene Marks, and focused on stories that resonated beyond purely parochial concerns.

The first issue of The Journal featured a cover photograph of local anti-bussing activist Bobbi Fielder, and an accompanying story about the growing strength of the Jewish right, a story that, like a Hollywood action flick, we’ve been rewriting with different actors in the lead ever since.

The fact of our anniversary struck me as I was preparing remarks for a talk Saturday night at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge. Frankly, it wasn’t an appearance I was looking forward to.

I had agreed to speak to congregants almost a year ago, at the invitation of the synagogue’s rabbi. Steve Tucker was an easy person to say yes to: witty and kind, and an unceasing fan of the paper.

Then, on Nov. 10, Rabbi Tucker’s car veered off a road near Yosemite National Park. Police ruled the fatal crash a suicide. Rabbi Tucker left behind a wife and three children, and a congregation in deep shock and mourning.

The Journal reported on this tragedy in two stories that recounted what happened, outlined the circumstances that preceded the suicide and summarized the life and contributions of a much-beloved man.

We received a lot of criticism for how we reported the story. Many of the rabbi’s admirers felt we stained the reputation of a good man by reporting the police department’s conclusion that Rabbi Tucker took his own life. They said we added to his family’s already unbearable burden. Influential people within the Jewish community tried to quash the story. The Los Angeles Times, after all, wrote nothing about what happened. When our reporters made calls, some hung up on them.

“The day after it happened,” a congregant told me last weekend, “I came here and everybody was really angry — they were angry at The Journal.”

In many ways, what happened during this sad time reflects the challenges of Jewish journalism.

“We see ourselves as professionals struggling to balance a commitment to both journalistic integrity and communal sensitivity,” Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt once wrote. “But we know that others see us either as troublemakers trying to stir and spread controversy, or shills for the Jewish establishment, papering over communal discord — or both.”

We are part of the community we report on, for good or for ill. And there is a natural tension between a community’s desire to spread good news and be seen in the best possible light, and journalism’s role as a watchdog and truth-teller. As journalists, we believe the community is best served by having access to accurate information. But tell that to a synagogue or organization in the midst of scandal, or tragedy.

A passage in the Torah goes to the heart of this tension. “Thou shalt not go about as a talebearer among thy people,” reads Leviticus. The proscription against slander and gossip, lashon hara, would seem to circumscribe a Jewish paper’s content to births, marriage and death announcements — what we call hatches, matches and dispatches.

But the same sentence continues: “Neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor: I am the Lord.”

In other words, this biblical admonition strongly suggests that sometimes we must reveal what we can when doing so will help those in trouble.

It is a delicate balance. It’s more pleasant to be the bearer of good news than bad, but we realize that to do our job well, we must print both.

When my invitation to speak at Temple Ramat Zion wasn’t rescinded, I expected congregants to excoriate The Journal for adding to their pain. Indeed, early on, a congregant expressed exactly that view in no uncertain terms.

I explained that, in the end, despite our own qualms, we chose to report on the circumstances surrounding Rabbi Tucker’s death in order to set the record straight, and to quell the ongoing spread of false rumors.

Imagine my relief when several people in the audience stood to praise us.

“You came through for us,” one man said. “You helped us understand.”

People in the audience applauded. Several more said that by reporting the truth, we shed light on an otherwise inexplicable act.

Twenty years ago, Jewish newspapers were often seen as an adjunct of communal boosterism, or as relics of a time when religion and ethnicity mattered more. Now the stories we cover — the Halimi tragedy, the riots in Denmark, the struggle against terror, democracy (or lack of it) in the Middle East, the rise of Hamas, a nuclear Iran — are crucial to Jews, and also vital to the wider community.

In other words, our work matters. Which means that more than ever, we have a responsibility to engage our task with seriousness and diligence.

We’ve begun our year of anniversary celebration with a cute stamp on the masthead — and we’ll continue it with a special issue in June and, we hope, some community-wide events as well. Most importantly, we’ll honor this year and this tradition by doing our jobs week by week.

I am grateful to those who had the vision to create and support this paper, the people who work so hard to produce it, and you, our readers, for sticking with us, in good times … and controversial ones.


Cartoon Riots Spark Sweet Backlash

In the wake of a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Danish flags and embassies are beset by violent protesters in heavily Muslim countries. But a chocolate store in the windmill-filled, Danish American tourist village of Solvang has enjoyed a small spike in its mail-order business.

And it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, though that always helps, said chocolatemaker Bent Pedersen.

“One comment was that they were buying in support of Denmark,” said Pedersen, who owns Ingeborg’s World Famous Danish Chocolates, which does a brisk business online from its Copenhagen Drive store.

Pedersen said that since anti-Danish rioting began, several people have called in long-distance orders and mentioned their desire to “buy Danish.” Consumers in heavily Muslim countries, in contrast, are boycotting Danish products, reportedly costing Danish business up to $1 million a day. In response, European and American free-speech supporters have been advocating a less well-known “Buy Danish” campaign.

Local law enforcement has, in recent days, become more focused on Solvang, which lies about 4 miles west of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, in case it should become a target. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the rioting overseas to deputies on patrol.

“We’re on a heightened state of awareness, but we’re not on tactical alert,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Willis, Solvang station commander.

The only possible local targeting of Danish interests appears to be online. Before the anti-cartoon protests began, Denmark’s L.A. consulate, along with Danish embassies and consulates worldwide, received thousands of e-mails about the cartoons, overloading the Danish Foreign Ministry’s Internet systems.

“They were of just a magnitude that did create some problems in our e-mails,” said a diplomat at Denmark’s embassy in Washington, D.C. “We got several thousand of them. They were not hostile necessarily. Some of them, the ones that we could identify as being from the U.S., were sort of 50/50.”

A Northridge-based Danish American newspaper has no plans to reprint the cartoons that originally were published last fall. “We don’t need all that controversy,” said Gert Madsen, editor-in-chief of the national weekly Bien.

Pedersen in Solvang appreciated the handful of pro-Danish chocolate orders, which ran about $50 each, but thought it odd to get phone requests all the way from Maryland.

“It still was strange,” Pedersen said of one of the Danish chocolate lovers. “I don’t know how he found us.”


Talk to Me

I owe my life’s work to Ann Landers. And, of course, her sister, Dear Abby. Dr. Rose Franzblau. And Dr. Joyce Brothers.

It happened this way.

In our New York home, my parents subscribed to three daily newspapers. Mom and Dad are enthralled by the tabloids. Even today, they read newspapers in the kitchen or the living room. Each page is like a hit in the ribs. They regale themselves with stories of which politician is on the take, which star is on the make and murders gone unsolved. They got a big kick out of Frank Sinatra and remembered every Jewish charity he supported, and how he cared for his mother.

It’s part of the shtetl mentality that I inherited, that the world is fascinating because people make it so.

I was already following the family tradition of reading and gossiping when I hit what I’m sure my parents still consider "the miserable years." You would think I was the only teen who wanted her own phone or who had a boyfriend taking up her time.

And so the ice age began, when I didn’t talk to them, or they to me. Our dinnertime was frost.

"How was school?" Mom would say. Dad wouldn’t bother asking.

"Why do you need to know?" I would reply. It deteriorated from there, until I’d finished my cherry Jell-O and my brother and I had cleared the table.

An hour later, I’d be in my room studying the American immigrant experience. When I looked up, there on my blue jewelry box was the newspaper clipping of the day, placed there by whichever brave parent had the nerve to come into my sanctum.

Wisdom had arrived. One of the advice columnists had written precisely the words that brought my father and mother comfort, confidence that this phase was not life or death. It would pass.

"Talk to each other," was the gist of it. "Make peace in the home."

Later on, just before the 11 p.m. news, my father would say, "Did you read it?"

And I would grunt, yes. It wasn’t quite a truce, but it was the best we could manage until the next day’s installment.

As the obits this week remind us, Ann Landers, born Esther Pauline Friedman, and her twin sister, Pauline Esther Friedman (Dear Abby) had a running competition in the newspapers my parents read each day. They were Russian Jewish girls from Sioux City, Iowa, where their father sold chickens.

These columnists, in a sense, are the next step after the Bintel brief, a popular feature of the Jewish Daily Forward. The Bintel brief was written (by men) to explain America to a generation of confused immigrants. The advice columnists, writing in English, were naturals in the area that so many children of immigrants shine: common sense. The New York Times said that Ann Landers’ appeal was that she wrote in what has been called a wise-cracking style out of Damon Runyon. These advice columnists took America seriously, but not too seriously. Which is why they appealed across the generations.

Do we still need such bridge-builders? In the Southern California Living section of Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Hax, the Washington Post advice columnist, suggested the answer is "no."

"It’s not that hard for anyone to get expert advice now," she said. "You can get legal advice in a minute on the Internet."

But expertise was never the appeal of these features, though it was nice that Ann Landers buttressed her liberal opinions with religious and legal authorities like Father Theodore Hesburg and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. The appeal to my dad was the voice of comfort, as the human dilemma confounded itself again and again.

It’s no small thing to give an audience comfort. A great columnist puts the world in order, finding wisdom merely by an anecdote and a bit of dialogue. I grew up in an age of great columnists, privileged to read on any weekday in the New York Post: Max Lerner, Murray Kempton, James Wechsler, then Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and Nora Ephron.

They wrote about which politician is on the take and which star is on the make, and murders gone unsolved. Every now and then they write about their mother’s birthday, a good piece of theater, the death of a friend. It seemed a good way to live.

But it began with the advice columnists. Bless you ladies. Anyone who could get my family to thaw is precious to me.

Prime Ribber

Any regular reader of the Jewish Voice in the 1950s and 1960s will remember “DAYENU,” a gag panel spoofing Jewish life. The weekly cartoon was attributed to Henry Leonard, actually a hybrid moniker representing two locals — Rabbi Henry Rabin, longtime executive director of Hillel of Southern California, and advertising artist Leonard Prikitin.

The Journal was unsuccessful in its search for Prikitin, but we found retired Newport Beach resident Rabin, 85, who told us that he created “DAYENU” because “I felt that all the papers were too parochial and too bar mitzvah-ish. There was not much of a critical nature in Jewish journalism of that day. My desire was to do cartoons that poked fun at the materialism and the rivalry in the community.”

At its peak, “DAYENU,” at a buck a panel, ran in 50 Jewish papers, including periodicals in Canada, Australia, South Africa and England — remarkably, without the aid of a syndicate. In 1960, Crown Publishing began releasing four paperback collections: “Open Your Mouth and Say, ‘Oy!’,” “With a Little Bit of Mazeltov,” “Never on Shabbos” and “Bagel Power.” The day’s top Jewish humorists — Sam Levenson and Harry Golden — wrote the forewords. By the climax of its two-decade run in the early 1970s, “DAYENU” totaled 1,100 cartoons and outlived many of the Jewish newspapers that ran it.”I used to use it on the Jewish Record, in place of a political cartoon on the masthead,” remembered Ted Sandler, longtime associate editor of L.A.’s B’nai B’rith Messenger. “It was funny; it was really funny!”So what was the most rewarding aspect of Rabbi Rabin’s side gig as a gag cartoonist?

“Getting the ideas,” Rabin said. “It certainly wasn’t the money.”