The Daily Herald, which had never laid anyone off before last August, went through another retrenchment this week. About 30 employees in all lost their jobs, and editorial staffers include music critic Mark Guarino, feature writer Pam DeFiglio, columnist Chris Bailey, Saint Charles editor Bob Musinski, and graphics artist Eric Semelroth. In addition, almost all the freelance writers were cut loose, and there’s a plan to merger the features and news departments at some point in the future. These measures followed by a few days a 5 percent across-the-board pay cut (the second within a year), which followed an announcement that revenues in some areas were down as much as 40 percent.
It’s only chump change, but the unloading of freelancers means the disappearance of one of the paper’s more unusual features — the tandem columns of Chaya Gil and Ray Hanania. It was a curious pairing. Gil ran a lecture series for the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago chapter when she began contributing to the Daily Herald, and a colleague describes her as “probably the most passionate person I’ve ever met when it came to Israel.” Hanania, a professional newspaperman and radio commentator whose sideline is stand-up comedy, is a Palestinian Christian whose wife is Jewish. Hanania says he found himself cast in the role of moderate obliged “to try to balance off the page.” A colleague of Gil’s says, “They mostly talked past each other.” Hanania agrees.
In a blog Hanania keeps apart from the Daily Herald he wrote in February, “When I write my column I never take Chaya’s column topics into consideration at all…. I am too moderate for Chaya and we are in two different leagues. She is an activist and works for an organization that has a very specific political agenda in the Middle East and I am sure she represents that view loyally. In my case, I do not represent anyone and write from the standpoint of being a professional journalist.”
I couldn’t reach Gil. Hanania tells me, “I was not popular with either the extremists who support Israel or the extremists who support Palestine. The moderates apparently don’t read or maybe have just lost hope, and I don’t think I have ever received more than a few letters in the five years praising me or the newspaper.”
After introducing them in 2002, the Daily Herald slowly cut them back, from a weekly appearance together to twice a month and eventually to one Monday a month. Hanania says he was paid $30 a column.
UPDATE: On Monday, April 21, I received an email from Chaya Gil in Tel Aviv commenting on the discontinuation of the two columns. She wrote: “Naturally, I was disappointed, as it was the only one of its kind, with two sides of the issues written side by side. It was also my opportunity to relate Middle East issues such as America’s involvement in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, American dependence on foreign oil, Israel-Palestinian peace efforts – all of which impact Americans greatly. As to whether I thought the column achieved something, I’d say yes, very much so. For one, it provided readers, the majority of whom are neither Jewish nor Muslim or Arab, an opportunity to hear directly from Israelis and Palestinians in a way that provided perspective beyond the headline or sound bite. I also believe that having Ray Hanania on the other side actually enhanced the credibility of my position.”