A rollercoaster ride with The Reporter

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Robert Neuberger
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s statement summarizes Robert Neuberger’s many years on The Reporter’s Editorial Board. Neuberger joined the board in 1992 and was on-and-off chairman for about 20 of those years. This spring, he turned his chairmanship reins over to Rachel Coker and reminisced about his time on the board during an e-mail interview.
Neuberger’s first connection to the paper came through his photography skills. “I had started taking pictures for The Reporter when it came up at a Federation Young Leadership event that I had photo experience on school newspapers,” he said. “I have always enjoyed photojournalism, and this enabled me to combine that with contributing to the community. I still enjoy covering events to this day.”
That changed a few years later, when Paula Rubin, then the chairwoman of the board, contacted him and invited him to become a board member. “As she wouldn’t take no for an answer, I was now a member!” he said. “That was the fall of 1992, and by 1996, Paula got me again, this time convincing me to take over the chair position.”
One of the reasons Neuberger has remained on the board is that he believes in the paper’s mission. “I felt then, and still do now, that The Reporter functions like a lynchpin – bringing all areas of the community together,” he said. “Providing unbiased national and international news, without a ‘denominational’ slant, as well as being a forum for local news and events, enables us to get to know our neighbors a little better.”
Although some Reporter staff members have worked at the paper for a long time, Neuberger did mention that there have been many changes through the years. “Throughout the rollercoaster-like progression of executive editors, board members and staff, the fundamental functioning of the paper, and the group, has actually been pretty consistent,” he said. However, he did note that each executive editor approached the paper differently: “As far as all the different executive editors – and we have had quite a few! – while they each provided a certain personality to the paper, the changes were mostly very subtle and certainly not detrimental!”
Neuberger believes that many things have stayed the same: “The primary focus has always been on our local paper, with the addition of the other communities as a means to spread out our fixed costs so that our small community can continue to enjoy an unheard of weekly paper! There have been a variety of format changes over the years, with national and international coverage waxing and waning; local coverage almost disappearing and then making a strong comeback; columns getting renamed; even the size of the paper (the actual paper) was changed at one point. Luckily, our staff took it all in stride and worked through them all.”
There is one area where each executive editor did have a definite effect. “The different editors probably had more of an effect on our relationships with the other communities that we serve, than on the format or content of our local paper, opinion columns notwithstanding!” he added. “Of course, the personalities of the different editors also influenced our interactions with our local community organizations as well, as can be expected.”
The greatest challenges throughout the years have been the financial ones. “When I first joined the board, our biggest concern was financial,” he said. “In those days, we frequently had large deficits and were bailed out by the Federation on more than one occasion. Cash flow concerns have come and gone, mostly come, along with a variety of creative solutions. I’m happy to see that we have had mostly balanced budgets the past few years. Expanding our offerings to publish papers for other communities has been a tremendous help financially, enabling us to buffer the cost of providing a local paper on a weekly basis. Of course, the flip side of that has been the stress of some of those working relationships, as well as losing some communities and trying to entice others to join us. Not necessarily what they taught us in journalism school! (No, I didn’t go either.)”
Neuberger notes that the paper does have to change with the times. “While I am part of the group that still likes the feel of a newspaper in my hands, I would like to see The Reporter beef up its digital presence, which is obviously the way of the future,” he added. “I like the idea of continuing to publish papers for other communities, as that helps support the group and enables the ongoing publication of The Reporter as a weekly paper. Financial stability would be a wonderful thing, and experience shows that publishing more than just The Reporter is the best path. However, I think we might need to revisit that model, at least in terms of how we market ourselves and find new clients.”
He is grateful for all the help he received during his years on the board: “I would like to say ‘thank you!’ – to the community, to Paula, to all along the way that helped me, encouraged me, supported me and kept me on this path, to [Executive Editor Rachel Esserman] for stepping up when [she was] desperately needed, and then sticking with it!”
His time on the board has also affected him personally. “This has been a great experience in so many different ways, helping me grow so much,” Neuberger said. “I have appreciated and enjoyed all of my interactions and involvement with the community that has come from this. Getting to know so many different people and working with so many organizations has been great. Giving back has always been important to me, and this position has certainly provided me with many opportunities. The support from the Federation all along has been tremendous, enabling one of the, if not the best, highlights of my tenure – getting to represent our community, along with Paul Spiegal (then Federation director) and Bard Levey (then JCC president), on a Solidarity Mission to Israel shortly after the Second Intifada had started. That was truly an experience of a lifetime, in so many different ways, and chairing the Editorial Board opened that door for me.”
Neuberger plans to remain on the board and thanked Coker for “stepping up to the challenge of taking over as chair, wishing her all the best, and I look forward to continuing on the board under her excellent leadership. And finally, I look forward to many more years of our award-winning newspaper supporting our community.”