Lesley Benedikt was driving home from the funeral of her husband, Josh Mitnick, when her phone rang. Josh, a former managing editor for The Michigan Daily, had gone on to report in Israel for Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 50. The call came from a consultant to the Palestine Authority, who told her that Josh had always listened to him and, unlike many other outsiders, understood the Palestinian perspective.
That message would have come as no surprise to anybody who knew Josh — either as a student journalist in Ann Arbor, or as a professional. That is how Josh lived his life and worked his craft: He was earnest and diligent, and always able to see the humanity in everybody. He was soft-spoken, serious, gentle and cerebral — unless he was watching Michigan sports, in which case he was neurotic, irrational, emotive and sometimes very, very loud.
I knew Josh most of my life. Our parents were friends from their college days in Ann Arbor. The Mitnicks lived in New Jersey, and my family lived in Detroit, but the Mitnicks would often visit us when they made their pilgrimage to Ann Arbor.
Josh was two years older than me, and I looked up to him. He enrolled at the University of Michigan and joined The Daily, and we’d sometimes visit him in Ann Arbor. He’d enthrall me with his stories about the paper, and I knew I wanted to follow his path.
Two of Josh’s Daily contemporaries, Mona Qureshi-Hart (Class of 1995) and Yael Citro (Class of 1994), spoke with several of Josh’s Daily colleagues, who shared a wide array of memories with them.
1991 graduate Miguel Cruz, a news editor, remembers Josh as a calming presence at a time when The Daily was riven with factional infighting. “The thing about him that made the strongest impression on me was how frustrating he found it when people from opposite sides of an argument couldn’t find a reasonable common ground,” Miguel said now. “In his view, if we would just calm down and listen to each other, there was always a way that we could move forward and get back to solving the problems that were affecting all of us. He knew when to call me out for being more concerned about scoring points than about being constructive, and that part of Josh that lives inside my head is still making me a better person today.”
Andy Gottesman, 1992 graduate, was editor-in-chief at the time. Andy and Josh started together as first-year students on The Daily. “I remember him as an extremely serious journalist. He had no interest in goofball politics at The Daily,” Andy said. Whenever there was a question or debate of how to move things forward, Andy recalled, Josh would say, “The New York Times wouldn’t do it this way.”
And then, Andy says, Josh would promptly focus on the task at hand. “He loved putting out news every day. He was a newsman.” Daily contemporary Mark Katz (Class of 1992) started alongside both Josh and Andy and proceeded to study in Israel after his second year. In his eulogy to Josh at his funeral, Mark shared that Josh viewed the opportunity as one to elevate the news at The Daily. Josh had Mark string for The Daily from Israel. Mark would call in with his news pieces and dictate them into the phone.
1994 graduate Andrew Levy started on the opinion page but switched to news reporting, where Josh helped him make the transition. “Josh was super welcoming and wonderful,” he recalled. “He was a really good mentor. A lot of people didn’t have the time (between The Daily and school) but he made time for me.” 1993 grad Matt Rennie, a Daily editor, said, “He was someone who had a lot of personal and professional integrity.”
Josh shared his love of jazz with friends and colleagues — with an infectious enthusiasm. 1994 graduate Bethany Robertson, one of Josh’s reporters, recalled tagging along with him to a free concert at the Michigan Theater. Karen Scholl, a 1995 graduate, news editor and friend of Josh’s sister, Carrie, remembers shopping for jazz albums with him. They both say the same thing now: “When I hear jazz, I still think of him.” Andy shares that as he worked, Josh would tap his fingers on the table. “He had a jazz beat in his head,” he said.
My favorite memory of Josh came when we played together in the annual football game against the State News. In those days, the game was pure brutality: eleven on eleven, full tackle. Until that point, the game had been played six times, and the State News had won every time. In 1992 — my sophomore year, his senior year — The Daily finally got serious and spent some time practicing and installing plans.
Josh and I handled the two safety positions in our two-deep zone. At first Josh, having never played organized football, was utterly terrified of the responsibility of having multiple opponents running through his area, knowing one false step could allow a touchdown. But he picked it up quickly, and even made an interception, in a shutout win — The Daily’s first ever.
Josh told me that day that he felt terribly guilty that he had spent years watching Michigan games and shouting angrily at the defensive backs when they let the opposing receivers catch the ball in front of them. Having stood in their shoes, and having lived the fear of giving up a long touchdown pass (but not having allowed any), he swore he would never question them again.
Josh’s legacy at The Daily and elsewhere is how he exemplified the journalist, the human that worked to understand and appreciate other humans. The immediate Daily Managing Editor prior to Josh, Kristine Lalonde, said, “We lost a mensch (this week) — we all can honor his memory by bringing more empathy and compassion to the world.”
Shortly after Josh died, Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister and prime minister-in-waiting, eulogized him on the Knesset floor. There are few journalists — if any at all — who managed to win the respect and affection of Israelis and Palestinians alike. His legacy as a journalist is the exact same as his legacy as a human being: to understand his fellow humans and bring enlightenment into the world.
Reflections from Daily alumni on Josh Mitnick: Sept. 2, 2021
Bethany Robertson, Class of 1994
Josh was Bethany’s first editor and she remembers him as very serious. He was not looking for the fluff story, ever, and was always looking for what was underneath. In the middle of a nightside shift, he mentioned he was leaving the building.
Bethany asked where he was headed. Josh replied that he was going to the Michigan Theatre for some free music. 501 Jazz used to put on an hour of free jazz one night a month. Being a relatively new person as a first-year at The Daily, Bethany was surprised to see this extra layer in her very serious editor. And she was even more excited as a first-year to be asked to join him.
Bethany walked into the grand venue with Josh: “It was the most magical thing I’d ever seen, staring down the staircase at this free concert. I remember looking at Josh and he was so transfixed, so present. I still think of him every time I hear jazz.”
Erin Einhorn, Class of 1995
Erin didn’t know Josh well. She was in her first year when Josh took the reins as Managing Editor. But she remembers extremely clearly an incident shortly after she started with The Daily. Erin explained that ahead of the Fall 1991 term, that there had been some rioting after the conclusion of a football game. As Michigan football prepared to play Michigan State, there was reason to believe that some additional rioting on campus might occur.
Erin expressed elation and excitement at the idea of jumping into a big story because she was new and well on her way to her journalism career.
“Josh was appalled,” she said. “He asked, ‘How are you excited about a riot?’” He was the grown-up in the room and understood that news isn’t a game. He understood the people behind it.” Erin indicated that is when she first learned that lesson.
Andrew Levy, Class of 1994
Andrew mentioned he had a chance to spend time with Josh for about a year and a half. The way that Andrew remembers him is the one who was focused, who made efforts to mentor and loop in junior reporters, and someone who avoided politics among his staff.
Andrew also remembers he was a challenging person when he first joined The Daily as a first year as a member of its editorial staff. “It was an intimidating experience so I tried news. Josh was super welcoming and wonderful. He was a really good mentor. A lot of people didn’t have the time (between The Daily and school) but he made time for me.”
Andrew also recalls Josh’s commitment to Hillel and Jewish causes and how he seamlessly meshed this passion with his work and welcomed junior reporters along. Andrew recalled a story about Josh recruiting him to attend an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event for student journalists in Baltimore. They attended together. And on their return, at a time when flights were often overbooked, and people could get bumped and get a free plane ticket, Andrew and Josh were ready to garner some free travel by showing up early to the airport. Andrew fell asleep after they indicated they wanted to be on the bump and free ticket list and then woke to find the plane boarding and Josh gone. Apparently, Andrew had missed an additional call to the desk to confirm a bump, but Josh was able to take it.
Karen Scholl (Sabgir), Class of 1995
Karen started at The Daily as a first-year on the news staff while Josh was managing editor. That fall of 1991, many presidential candidates came to visit campus and Karen was assigned to cover Democratic candidate Tom Harkin. Karen recalls how excited and passionate Josh was about covering the candidates. She marveled in it because she didn’t know anything about Harkin at that point.
She recalls his immense passion for Israel early on.
Karen, like Bethany, shares how Josh introduced her to jazz: “Whenever I hear jazz, I think of him.” She reflected on one of their visits to Tower Records and how she remarked on how pricey some of the CDs Josh was looking at were for how few tracks they offered: “He just looked at me and said, ‘It’s about the quality of the tracks, not the quantity.’”
Carrie Mitnick, Josh’s sister, lived down the hall from Karen and came to know his family well for many reasons, including being big Michigan fans: “He shaped my whole Michigan experience, his whole family. He introduced me to so much.”
Josh also introduced Karen to the joys of reading non-fiction — even at the beach: “We were on vacation at the beach and I looked over and there he was, reading Deborah, Golda, and Me. I thought you only read non-fiction if under duress. He was always learning things and wanted to know the world better. He was always a student.”
Andy Gottesman, Class of 1992
Andy was editor-in-chief while Josh was on The Daily. Andy mentioned he took his family to Israel four years ago and reached out but wasn’t able to connect.
Andy and Josh started together as first-year students on The Daily. “I remember him as an extremely serious journalist. He had no interest in goofball politics at The Daily.” Whenever there was a question or debate of how to move things forward, Andy recalled, Josh would say, “The New York Times wouldn’t do it this way.” As he would say something like this, Andy added that Josh would remove his spectacles and rub his forehead; “He loved putting out news every day. He was a newsman.”
Andy also remembers Josh’s affections for music. He would recall that as Josh was editing, Josh sometimes would tap his fingers on the table rhythmically: “He had a jazz beat in his head.”
And Andy remembers the Mitnicks’ affections for Michigan football. He once invited Josh over to watch an Ohio State game and his dad joined in: “His Dad was a bigger fan than anyone!”
Matt Rennie, Class of 1993
Matt was editor-in-chief following Andy and came from the sports desk during a streak of years when editors-in-chief came from sports. Matt recalls that when Josh was managing editor, he was sitting among a lot of big personalities: “The other leaders at The Daily were loud, big personalities. Josh was more reserved. He was someone who had a lot of personal and professional integrity.”
That reservation was still powerful, however. Matt shared that you could usually see pretty well ahead how things were going to go with a group during an argument: “Josh wasn’t afraid, even if it was clear his was going to be a minority opinion, to stick to his opinion even if it might be drowned out.”
Miguel Cruz, Class of 1991
Miguel was a news editor and weekend editor and provided more color about Josh’s management of conflicts in the newsroom and how he gravitated even at that time toward resolution of conflicts:
“The thing about him that made the strongest impression on me was how frustrating he found it when people from opposite sides of an argument couldn’t find a reasonable common ground. In his view, if we would just calm down and listen to each other, there was always a way that we could move forward and get back to solving the problems that were affecting all of us. He knew when to call me out for being more concerned about scoring points than about being constructive, and that part of Josh that lives inside my head is still making me a better person today.”
Kristine LaLonde, Managing Editor, Class of 1991
“Earnest. Kind. Attentive. These were virtues that shaped Josh as an 18-year-old college reporter and followed him to places much tougher than the Big House or the Diag. In a place known for the intense friendships created, there’s a special bond between Daily editors and the people who take their spots. Josh and I had a brother-sister bond when we worked together — it was a joy to hand off Managing Editor duties to him. It became a source of unjustified pride to me that he stayed in journalism and kept telling thoughtful stories. We lost a mensch this week — we all can honor his memory by bringing more empathy and compassion to the world.”
“He was a good reporter and a good guy. I last saw him in 2005, on a trip to the Middle East, when I quite unexpectedly ran into him at someone’s house in Jerusalem. I hadn’t heard that he was working in Israel, so it felt strange to bump into an old Ann Arbor friend. But it also felt entirely natural: of course, Josh had made his way halfway around the world, burrowed in and started reporting. We had a great conversation, and I’m grieved to hear I won’t get to talk with him again.”
Jonathan Chait, Mona Qureshi-Hart and Yael Citro co-authored this piece, the latter two conducting interviews with staffers from Josh Mitnick’s era at The Michigan Daily. Any comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will be reviewed by the Editorial Page Editors.