An appreciation: Lester Kravitz, newspaperman

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An appreciation: Lester Kravitz, newspaperman

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I had not met Lester Kravitz when I got an email from him nearly four years ago. Certainly, I knew who he was from his decades in the real estate business, time as president of the Pelham Chamber of Commerce, and member of the Pelham Civic Association. After the e-mail, we met for the first time in late spring or early summer of that year to talk about a newspaper, the sort of meeting I was familiar with. The sort of meeting I always welcomed.

Lester had decided that Pelham needed a new paper following the decision by the Pelham Weekly to cease printing. I can only think he got my name because of some work I do with school newspapers.

Five of us talked. I offered my views, which on newspaper publishing are more like convictions deeply held and shared pretty directly. Lester took it all in. He asked if I wanted to edit the paper. I demurred for the simple reason that I had a publishing contract with two books still on it. You don’t write novels and run a community newspaper at the same time. At least, I don’t know how to do that. We talked some more, and I left the meeting and the project there.

Funny thing about this newspaper game I’ve spent my life in: there’s no licensing, no bar exam, no medical boards, no SEC tests. We have a First Amendment, which means anyone can put out a paper, if they have the fortitude and the finances.

Three months or so later, the News of Pelham published its first issue. I was contacted about recruiting kids to write for the paper, since I was, I guess, “the kid newspaper guy.” This was something I could manage with my workload. Students I’d worked with at Colonial and Hutch—some now freshman—and more recruited at the other schools starting writing for the paper. Getting their work printed in their hometown paper was a tremendous opportunity for all the students. I knew it. They knew it. Having an audience gets kids to write. They reported on famous PMHS graduates, science-research competitions, Sal the crossing guard, the Pelham police chief retiring and more than 200 other stories. By the time the News of Pelham stopped publication, 46 fifth through 11th graders were on the roster of News of Pelham Youth Beat. Some wrote a little, some wrote often. I don’t know of a more extensive student journalism program run by a community newspaper.

That’s why I’m writing this today, more than two weeks after Lester died on Nov. 25 at age 66. Youth Beat wasn’t my idea. Starting the News of Pelham most certainly wasn’t my idea. The subscription and advertising income for each issue of NoP never covered the costs of putting out the paper. Lester sunk his money into the newspaper each time the presses ran. News of Pelham was set up as a non-profit, which meant Lester never hoped or planned to make any money off of the project. Or get any of his back. People should know all that. Lester conceived, organized and supported a newspaper for their town of Pelham. He was a newspaperman.

(This is not to overlook the great group of people at the News of Pelham that every issue handled the production, editing, writing, ad sales, distribution and all the other jobs required. It takes a team to put out a paper for a village—or two.)

In some respects, Lester should also get credit for the genesis of the Pelham Examiner. The students most fired up about doing something after the News of Pelham stopped publication were the ones who’d been on the Youth Beat staff. They got the bug. They understood how important a local paper was to their town. They felt the loss personally. They provided the impetus behind the Examiner’s launch, though many students who hadn’t worked on the NoP joined in quickly enough. Losing a paper, in this age and in this political climate, was a motivator for many of them, News of Pelham staff or not, particularly the older students. To put it most simply, without the News of Pelham and its Youth Beat program, there’d be no Pelham Examiner today.

Lester Kravitz brought Pelham a newspaper and triggered the start of another. I want to honor his memory for that. The Pelham Examiner and all its newspaperwomen and newspapermen extend their deepest condolences to Lester’s family.

Thank you, Lester.