Marking 120 Years of ‘Outstanding Jewish Journalism’

(Image from Forward’s 120 Year Gala announcement)

The Forward, which started publication as Forverts, added an English-language version, the Jewish Daily Forward, and now is read mostly in its digital form, Forward.com, celebrates its 120th anniversary this month. Luminaries including Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, and Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent at NBC News, will be honored at a gala to be held Nov. 13 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Place.

In a story in The Forward marking the publication’s anniversary, Michael Kaminer wonders what The Forward’s “fiercely independent” Ab Cahan would think of today’s Forward, which has evolved from the “pioneering Yiddish broadsheet” to “today’s 24/7, digital-first news operation and acclaimed monthly magazine.”

Ab Cahan, Founder of the Forward (Via The Forward)

Kaminer offers some detailed history by way of answering the question he poses.

Cahan launched the Forward in 1897 — a moment that echoes our own, with many immigrants insecure in their new homeland. Along with advocating for social justice, the Forverts — as it was then called — strove to help Jewish newcomers mainstream into American life. The legendary “Bintl Brief” column, which began in 1906, gave advice to the lovelorn, lost, and homesick — and provided a compass to the New World for its readers.

A serious news organization, the Forverts broke news stories, but also advocated passionately for democracy and the rights of new Americans. A watershed moment was Cahan’s fearless editorials after 1911’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which killed 146 low-wage workers. His eloquent fury on the page helped engender America’s first workplace safety laws.

Over the years, The Forward counted Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel as regular contributors, added a radio station, and “remained tireless in its commitment to reporting on politics and social justice” in the 1970s and 1980s through to the present day.

In 2006, reporter Nathaniel Popper — now at The New York Times — broke news on labor and food-safety violations at the Agriprocessors slaughtering plant in Postville, Iowa. His stories led to federal investigations and prosecutions of company owners.

Under Jane Eisner, who became the Forward’s first woman editor-in-chief in 2008, that dedication has become even fiercer. Among the Forward’s many achievements under her leadership: Eisner’s 2015 face-to-face with then-President Obama, an exclusive for Jewish media; Larry Cohler Esses’ 2015 reports from Iran, the first by a Jewish-press journalist since 1979; and 2017’s explosive stories on Sebastian Gorka, the White House adviser with links to anti-Semitic right-wing groups in his native Hungary. The Forward’s reporting helped spur Gorka’s ouster.

Forward.com attracts more than 2 million monthly unique visitors, reports Kaminer. Go to Forward.com to read his conclusion about what The Forward’s founder would think of it today.

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