Q&A with Bob Jacob, Cleveland Jewish News

Shining a Light on Great Journalism
In this occasional Byliner series, we'll connect with journalists behind winning entries in the All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards. Interviews may have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q&A with Bob Jacob
Managing Editor, Cleveland Jewish News

CJN Staff won first place in the Digital Media, Breaking News Single Story category for the story Security quickly increased at area synagogues

Byliner: This story was about the deadliest attack on the Jewish people in the United States. The mass shooting happened in Pittsburgh, but the Cleveland Jewish News became central to reporting on it. How did that come about?

Bob Jacob: This was a major tragedy that happened on a Saturday morning, our holiest day of the week outside of the major holidays, so many observant Jews refrain from working or using electronics. When we call on our staff to work on a Saturday Shabbat, it is not something we take lightly. After I came to the CJN eight years ago, we found it necessary to change our guidelines to allow us to report and post news to our website on Saturday because of the world we live in. However, we know when we do that, it upsets a certain segment of our readers. We have done it probably fewer than 10 times – but we knew this was one of those exceptional times that we needed to report and continually update our website. We knew our community wanted to know that Cleveland was safe and secure. It was our responsibility to inform them. We eventually saw that people from the Pittsburgh area had come to rely on cjn.org because, as we later learned, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle staff could not report about the tragedy in the immediate aftermath because its staff was Shabbat observant.

Byliner: How difficult was it to find people to interview?

BJ: . Within minutes of learning about the tragedy, we sent the first of several Breaking News Alerts to our subscriber database. We asked all reporters who were available and willing to work on Shabbat to attempt to find any connections there could be between Cleveland and Pittsburgh because our communities are similar. 

In less than one hour, I was successful in reaching Stephen Hoffman, the head of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, who was in Israel, where the time difference was seven hours ahead of Cleveland time. The first thing he said to me is, ‘Bob, make sure everybody knows that I'm talking to you after Shabbat. I don't want anybody to think that I'm talking to you on Shabbat. Make that clear in the story because of the time difference.’ He was aware of the situation and had been in contact with security people back in Cleveland to make sure our dozens of Jewish institutions were safe and secure. The security team at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland is second to none in the country. So, I got some comments from him about the tragedy and about security in Cleveland, wrote a story and posted it ASAP.

A short time later, I reached Gary Haba, police chief in Beachwood, which is 89.5 percent Jewish and has numerous Jewish facilities. I added his comments to the story.

Throughout the day, we started to find local connections, including some via social media – someone who knew someone in Pittsburgh who attends that synagogue and so forth. During the week, we learned that several people who had been killed had connections to Cleveland.

I was also in communication throughout the day with my publisher, CEO and president, Kevin Adelstein, and we made the decision to send a staff reporter to Pittsburgh first thing the next morning. Jane Kaufman spent two days in Pittsburgh, reporting from the scene. Her coverage anchored a special 26-page section in that week’s newspaper, which included the award-winning story.

Byliner: You said that photography was also a challenge?

BJ: I was sitting in my synagogue on that Saturday morning when I got notification about the tragedy. On my way home from services I stopped to take photos of police cars in front of a few synagogues to accompany our stories online. When I drove by the Orthodox (more observant) neighborhood and started to take photos of police cars and some congregants walking on a sidewalk, two congregants rushed toward me, probably wondering why I was taking photos because it is not something we would normally do on Shabbat. I asked, ‘Do you know what happened?’ One man said, ‘Yeah, we've been informed what happened, but please don't take any pictures. It is Shabbat.’ So, I honored that request.

Byliner: What lessons did you learn from this situation?

BJ: My philosophy is whatever we do, we can always do better the next time. Now, we're already thinking, ‘What about the next shooting? What if this happens in Cleveland, Ohio? Are we prepared? Where's our emergency bag ready to go on that Shabbat Day? Are we prepared for the next one and the next one and the next one? What if something happens on the High Holy Days that are coming up? And if somebody is not available to take a call because they are more observant, who's up, who's on call, who gets the ball rolling and starts making decisions, so we don’t miss a beat?’ Hopefully, we will never have to put that emergency plan into effect.


Read CJN’s award-winning story here . Bob welcomes your feedback or questions. Contact him at bjacob@cjn.org.

Are you a first-place award-winner who would like to be featured in Byliner ? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Send us a note at pressclubcle@gmail.com. Special thanks to Press Club board member Cristy Carlson for this profile.