Next week will be unfamiliar ground for the Chronicle, and for Jewish Pittsburgh at large.
Barbara Befferman, a fixture at the Chronicle in several capacities for more than two decades, and the CEO of the paper for the past 18 years, is retiring. She and her husband, Dr. Peter Danes, are moving to Tucson, Ariz., where they will begin the next stage of their lives together.
We wish Barbara well and we offer our grateful thanks for her years of service and dedication. Truly, if it were not for her, who knows if Jewish Pittsburgh would still have its own paper today.
It’s no secret that the last two decades in the history of print journalism were marked by radical change. For daily and weekly newspapers alike, circulations declined as traditional readers aged and passed on. Younger readers found new sources for their news — namely, the Internet — and in so doing, drastically redefined the future of the printed word. They gravitated to online publications, blogs and social networks.
On the business end, local retailers — traditionally the backbone of newspaper revenue — slowly declined in the face of fierce competition for the national box store chains and, eventually, online merchandise outlets.
It’s been a rough 20 years, but newspapers are nothing if not resilient — reflecting a trait of the people who run them.
Barbara was resilient in spades.
For years, she found ways to keep the Chronicle in the black when other papers slipped deeply into the red. She ran a tight ship financially, but it was just this tough love she exhibited that enabled the Chronicle to continue its mission.
And as many readers know, she defended like a lioness the paper’s execution of its mission. The Chronicle’s news content evolved over the past 10 years — a development our readers weren’t always happy about. We covered stories that many people thought should be left alone. As our space for news shrank we were forced to make tough decisions about what to put in and what to leave out. Those decisions weren’t always popular.
When we were wrong, Barbara always admitted it, and we corrected ourselves. But when we were right, she stood her ground.
Not only did Barbara defend her news staff — vigorously — in the face of sometimes withering criticism, she gave us the time and space to build a new Chronicle — a multimedia news organization complete with an award-winning website, blogs, its own social network and, most recently, a highly successful, full-color magazine.
To be sure, the new Chronicle is a work in progress, and many hurdles remain to be cleared. Still, the future is much brighter for western Pennsylvania’s and West Virginia’s only Jewish journalistic voice. That is a tribute to Barbara.
But while backing her staff and watching the ledger, Barbara always maintained a healthy respect, and heartfelt love for, the community she grew up in and served.
She treated the readers who called her on the phone or walked through our front door, not as clients, but as old friends, which most of them were. Her smile was contagious, and she always had time to share anecdotes about whose son was graduating, whose daughter was getting married and whose parents were, sadly enough, slowing down.
That is perhaps where the Chronicle will miss Barbara most. Her institutional memory of this community is bottomless — a human resource that’s not easily replaced, though we pledge to you, our readers, every effort to make it so.
Every Friday, or on the eve of the High Holy days or festivals, Barbara always made it a point to wish the various staff members a Good Shabbat or chag sameach. We’ll miss those greetings and well wishes; they were one of the nicer perks of working at the Chronicle. So as Barbara exits her office for the final time, we say to her, and Peter, Shabbat Shalom, chag sameach, a long happy life in Arizona, and most of all, thanks for a job well done.