The National Herald, A Thousand Issues Young

The National Herald is not only a crown jewel in Greek-American publishing but also a crown jewel in American publishing. During the time the Herald was publishing one thousand issues on a regular basis, hundreds of American print publications were going out of business. Examples of that phenomenon are that more than a dozen Greek American publications, some with histories going back decades, have ceased publication. In contrast, the Herald has not only survived; it has prospered. This is not a matter of luck but a result of astute editorial planning. As a reader, a historian of Greek America, and a longtime contributor to the Herald, I welcome the opportunity to think aloud about a newspaper I look forward to receiving each week.

Business decisions regarding printers, home delivery, and Internet access are all part of the newspaper’s success, but I am more qualified to write about the nature of the newspaper. A perennial challenge facing a Hellenic publication published in English is if it will focus on Greece or the United States. If the focus is Greece, are we dealing with ancient traditions and popular customs or with contemporary Greece? If the focus is the United States, are the articles self-congratulatory with lots of photos of banquets or do articles deal with the cultural, political, and social dynamics affecting Greek America? The Herald solution has been to provide comparable space for overseas and domestic stories.

Overseas news may dominate the front pages of the Herald on any given week while following weeks may see the front page and other reportage dominated by events in the United States. The criterion is to cover all things Greek-oriented as they develop, whatever the geographic specifics.

This approach is markedly different from a time when Greek-American publications served as American megaphones for forces in Greece, Cyprus, and the Patriarchate. Also culturally limited are English-language publications that are mainly about nostalgia and de facto ethnic tourism. The Herald has opted for the more difficult task of evaluating current events from the dual perspective of finding solutions that are good for the United States and good for Greece. This orientation produces critical, even controversial commentary as well as cheerleading and advocacy.

Editorial comment in the Herald is not confused with reportage but presented on two editorial pages written by numerous writers. The range of political and cultural viewpoints is diverse. Different columnists may take opposite positions with no interference from the editors to color those views one way or another. The point is not diversity for diversity’s sake but to responsibly explore the broad spectrum of options available to Greek America. I think some of the columns, especially those regarding the Middle East and the Balkans, are as good as or better than many printed by the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, America’s premier newspapers.

Greek-Americans, like most Americans, suffer from cultural amnesia. We too easily forget about our past and how that past informs our present. As a scholar of Greek America, I am constantly impressed by the work of Herald stalwart Steve Frangos. I constantly learn something new from reading his columns. Thanks to the Herald, this most prolific writer in the field is able to regularly reach the general public as well as scholars not paralyzed by academic intrigues. Cultural amnesia is also addressed in various features on Greek history and the Orthodox tradition, but the attention given to Greek America is unique.

The Greek Orthodox Church is a central institution in Greek-American life. Many publications have a tendency to avoid discussion of the Church’s shortcomings and speak only of its accomplishments. The Herald is distinguished by its frank critiques of Orthodox practices when needed while columnists regularly address the nature of Orthodoxy and the role it can play in society. The Herald is further distinguished by being frank about the lack of mainstream visibility by the present Church hierarchy compared to a time when Archbishop Iakovos had Orthodoxy on the front pages of major American media and fostered active involvement in inter-denominational organizations.

Another service provided by the Herald has been the publication of special issues, usually relating to a holiday or a historical event. Supplements like that commemorating Oxi Day are vital to sustaining our cultural memory. What distinguishes obviously celebratory essays in these supplements are that they are usually written by experts in the topic who base their views on historical data, not ethnic chauvinism.

My favorite annual supplement is the one offering mini-biographies on the wealthiest Greeks in America. This is a populist and scholarly stroke of publishing genius. At one level, it is an engaging celebrity feature. At the same time, it is a valuable scholarly resource. Knowing that Greeks are proportionally overrepresented in the Fortune 500 is instructive, but the supplement adds some flesh and blood to raw data. We are provided some details about how their wealth was created and whether they are American-born or immigrants. Most valuable are comments regarding how such individuals view their relationship to Greek America.

The middle pages of the newspaper are filled with recipes, language exercises, historical snapshots, human interest stories, and cultural coverage that give a sense of the broad range of Hellenic culture in America. In that sense, the individual pieces are less important than the panoramic portrait created. I would like to see more critical writing about the arts (just being Greek should only be a starter), but the essentially reportorial coverage offers visibility to books, art exhibits, film festivals, institutions, musical events, and the like that exposes readers to the cultural opportunities readily available.

I will end with a comment about the recent election. The Herald carried stories for and against Clinton/Trump for months. Even third parties were given their due. The paper could have settled for having provided this coverage as it had concluded that it wasn’t enthusiastic about either candidate. The Wall Street Journal, for example, did not declare for either and some traditional conservative newspapers such as the Detroit News opted for third party protest voting.

The Herald felt that staying non-committed was irresponsible given the major challenges facing the United States, Greece, and Cyprus. It judged the experience of Hillary Clinton gave her the edge over the unpredictability of Donald Trump. Also noted was that Clinton has a history of interest in Greece and Cyprus while Trump has none. As we all know, Clinton won the popular vote by a fraction while Trump won the Electoral College vote and thus gained the presidency. What is most relevant about having opted for one of the candidates is that the Herald stood up at the plate and advocated for what it felt was best for Greek America. It’s done that for a thousand issues and hopefully will continue to do so for at least a second thousand.