Forward Thinking

Why and How We Cover Noah Pozner's Death

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share

Are Jewish journalists exploiting Noah Pozner’s death because he was the only Jewish child killed in the Newtown school massacre? That’s the provocative question raised in a blog post by Simi Lichtman, the associate editor of New Voices magazine and a Forward contributor. And her answer is: yes.

Courtesy of Pozner Family

Lichtman wrote that she is “more than a little disturbed” by the way Jewish publications latched onto every detail of Noah’s short life simply to sell a story, looking for any “obscure slant” that would make the nationwide tragedy a Jewish one. This, she says, is an aspect to her new profession that she finds “downright disillusioning.”

She’s pinpointed a genuine struggle that all of us who take our Jewish journalism seriously confront daily. Our professional lives, like our personal ones, are a balance between a strictly religious/ethnic focus and an interest in the wider secular society in which we (mostly) easily reside. Focus too narrowly on only the Jewish story and we seem parochial and self-obsessed. Open the lens too widely and we’re just like everyone else in media, losing our distinctive edge.

But what Lichtman fails to appreciate is that every community in America — racial, religious, geographic, gender-based — looks at the news through its own prism. And, in fact, it is our duty and our privilege to provide those stories to the Jewish world, and beyond.

If in the days after the shooting everyone we know is talking about Newtown, shouldn’t we? If readers are flocking to these stories online — visits to the Forward’s website on the day of Noah Pozner’s funeral hit an all-time high — shouldn’t our work reflect our community’s interests and concerns?

I worked for 25 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer as a reporter and editor. Trust me: If a family that had just moved from Philadelphia to Newtown lost a child in that shooting, my old newspaper would have been all over it.

Not to exploit, but to explain. This is how we make sense of the seemingly senseless, by delving into the personal and connecting the granular details of horrific events to help us understand. Making this Jewish connection, as our Naomi Zeveloff did in her brilliant story about the Pozner family, makes it even more powerful. I was moved to learn that Noah’s family was determined to bury him in a tallit, even though he was too young to have had a bar mitzvah. I was impressed by Veronique Pozner’s insistence that the family sit shiva for her son, and haunted by the way she philosophized about good and evil using a very Jewish framework.

I am not sure that a non-Jewish publication would have picked up on these telling details. That may be why the Pozner family gave us the access it did — because they knew we would understand and relate to the way they were processing their grief.

Lichtman evidently wrote her post before our story was published yesterday, and I’m sure that her critique was directed more at the short, sloppy way some in the media capitalized on this one family’s tragedy just because they are Jews. It’s imperative that journalists put the Pozner’s suffering in context, which we did — with a strong editorial demanding action on gun control, and with news stories and columns discussing the issues raised by the Newtown massacre.

At the end of her blog post, Lichtman said that the coverage of Noah Pozner’s death in the Jewish media revealed a side of Jewish journalism “that I cannot respect.”

Not for this journalist. Our work showed me the immense power of what sophisticated, responsible Jewish journalism can do — providing a unique prism to an unfolding narrative of suffering and redemption, which will, I hope, prod good citizens to act so that other families, Jewish and not, won’t be forced to repeat this awful tale.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: shooting, noah pozner, newtown

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.