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Jack Schwartz, Key Cog at New York Newspapers, dies at 82

This obituary is part of a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.

Jack Schwartz, a longtime journalist, knew early on that he was best suited for the types of jobs valued in a newsroom, but largely invisible to the reading public.

In the fall of 1959 he landed a job as a reporter for The Long Island Press, based in Queens, and a few months later he found himself covering his first big story, the hotel fire in Atlantic Beach, on the South Shore. But he never really went to the scene; instead, he pieced together the story from phone interviews and a copy of wire service.

“I discovered that I could visualize something much better in my head by not being there,” he said 55 years later in “The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman,” a memoir.

“Fortunately,” he added, “most reporters did not share my inclinations, but it was clear to me that my inclinations were for indoor tasks: rewriting, editing, shaping the work of people who loved going out. and scramble, bang on doors and run with the pack.

It is in these types of behind-the-scenes jobs that Mr. Schwartz has become a familiar figure and mentor to generations of New York journalists, mainly through his long stints at Newsday and The New York Times.

At The Times, where he was first hired in 1973, he was a mainstay on a series of desks, editing for the week in Review (now the Sunday Review section), The Sunday Magazine and Arts & Leisure and on the Desks of culture and metropolitan. Prior to joining The Times, he had been a reporter and editor at Newsday, and in 1988 he returned to that newspaper as editor. He then held the same role at Daily News before returning to The Times to end his career.

“Jack was such a masterful, erudite, and literary editor, with a sparkling sense of humor that infused the headlines he wrote and polished,” wrote Jan Benzel, one of dozens of former Times colleagues who posted tributes on a Facebook alumni group. “And, as everyone says, a remarkably nice man.

Mr Schwartz’s wife, Dr Nella Shapiro, said he died of complications from Covid-19 at a Bronx hospital. He was 82 years old and lived in Chappaqua NY

Mr Schwartz credited Stan Asimov, a Newsday editor and mentor known as Azzy, for teaching a pivotal lesson.

“D’Azzy,” he wrote in his memoir, “I learned to absorb abuse from above without inflicting it on those below.

Jacob David Schwartz was born on May 9, 1938 in the Bronx to Isadore and Pauline (Bonnick) Schwartz. His father was a production manager, his mother a housewife.

As a student at City College in New York, Mr. Schwartz worked on The Campus, the college newspaper. One of its editors at the time was Edward Kosner, who would go on to edit Newsweek, New York and Esquire magazines and The Daily News.

“He would have been a favorite literature professor at any college,” Mr. Kosner said of Mr. Schwartz in an email, “but he caught a chronic case of journalism those early days on campus, and he never recovered. “

A highlight of Mr. Schwartz’s time with the campus came in 1956, when he wrote an article about a classmate, Herb Stempel, who was a contender on NBC’s “Twenty-One” trivia game. The article suggested that all was not as it seemed. NBC went ballistic, requiring retraction. Soon after, the show was indeed found to be repaired, with Mr. Stempel being the main whistleblower.

While still a student, Mr. Schwartz worked as a copier simultaneously for two New York newspapers, The Daily Mirror and The Post. He graduated in English in 1959 and was drafted into the military in 1961. After assembling in 1963, he was hired as a reporter for Newsday in 1964 and later promoted to town editor.

In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1977, Mr. Schwartz is survived by two children, Max and Molly Schwartz, and two grandchildren.

After retiring in 2005, he continued to write and also taught, most notably at Columbia University. Ari L. Goldman, a journalism professor there, had experienced Mr. Schwartz’s teaching abilities at The Times.

“I was a young reporter in the metro and wrote an article about the deadline,” he said via email. “Jack was on the copy desk. Most of the editors didn’t look at me, but Jack called me up and asked me to sit down.

“He went through a few basic styling mistakes and then added, ‘And you don’t have to make this guy a hero.’ He took out my adjectives. “Just tell her story.”

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