Jeanne and Joe Samuels

Jean and Joe Samuels

Jean and Joe Samuels Click below to link to the Jewish Herald Voice: http://jhvonline.com/

 

 

 

Joe Samuels died Jan. 19, 2011 at the age of 95. Read a tribute to him at his publication, the Jewish Herald Voice:

Tribute to Joe Samuels

The following interview took place at the Texas Press Association’s mid-winter convention, almost exactly one year before Joe’s death. Read the transcript below or listen to it here:

Samuels 2

It’s Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010

Jeanne Samuels:            I’m Jeanne Samuels.  My husband and I own and operate the Jewish Herald Voice in Houston, Texas.  It’s a hundred and one year old publication and we have owned it for 36 years.  We’re fortunate in that now we have three generations at the office.  And I’ll let Joe continue here.  Or did you want my year of birth at this point in time?  I was born December 26, the day after Christmas, 1923 in Casper, Wyoming.  My dad said it was 38 degrees below zero the day I was born.

Joe Samuels:            I was born in 1915 and we’ve, Jeanne has just described how the paper came about or was just beginning I guess.

Jeanne Samuels:  Just beginning, honey.

Joe Samuels:  Yeah.  My dad died when he was 38 years old.  He had the vision of starting a paper like this in Dallas and he was not aware that the chemistry in the inks those days could kill a person and he— his kidneys were destroyed without his knowing it and that’s how this paper came about.

Jeanne Samuels:  Well, that’s not exactly.  You skipped a little bit right there.  Joe always had the feeling for wanting to do something like this and his mother had told him she never wanted him ever to print because of what happened to his father.  But of course, we don’t print.  You can’t have a weekly newspaper and keep a press going.  So our press is out-sourced.  But he always had the desire to start, to be involved in a Jewish newspaper, we’re the third owners of this one here.

Cash:  And when did you get involved with the paper in Houston?

Joe Samuels:  It would have been about 36 years ago now.

Jeanne Samuels:  Uh-huh, a little better.

Cash:  And you purchased the newspaper?

Joe Samuels:  We did, uh-huh.

Cash:  Did you have any previous newspaper experience?

Joe Samuels:  Not really except I got a degree in this field from the University of Houston and I can tell you this is how I met Jeanne.  We were both in downtown Houston at Texas and Fannin waiting for a bus to take you to the University of Houston.  It was just a brand new school at that time with two buildings.  And when I was waiting I noticed the shape of the legs of this lady and I looked at her face and asked then whether I could sit down beside her on the bus.  She said yes and we married 10 months later.  And we didn’t realize it at the time I was already sworn in for World War II and I had vision problems and the Navy turned me down because of my bad vision.  So I memorized the eye charts of those days and got into the Army Air Force.  And there was a cadet program at, where you got basic training, at Boca Raton, Florida, and you ended up at Yale University studying ground and airborne equipment.  And since I was in this field the military thought that I build KTRAs and they gave me magnificent jobs to do.  I started out in French West Africa and building systems where aircraft could land in bad weather and when the Commander of the Air Force came, the Base Commander asked if I’d be officer of the day and make sure that he never saw the cemetery where all the crashed airplanes were.  So that’s how I started off.  And my greatest feat was coming home, Jeanne meets me in New York and we are going, I’m going to be on a military train out of New Jersey going to Fort Sam Houston and I greet her on that train.  Describe the conditions.

Jeanne Samuels:  She needs to know about newspapers, though, Honey.

Joe Samuels:  Say again?

Jeanne Samuels:  We need, we’re digressing.  We need to go back to the newspaper business.

Joe Samuels:  Okay, you go start.

Cash:  So this is Houston 1970-something?

Joe Samuels:  No, we got, Joe got out of service, active service that is, in August of 1946, 1946.

Cash:  Right.  But the newspaper in Houston started in—

Joe Samuels:  It started in 1908.

Cash:  Right.  And you purchased it in—

Joe Samuels:  In 1973.

Cash:  Okay.

Joe Samuels:  April 1st, 1973.

Joe Samuels:            It’s interesting the man who started it was raised in a children’s home in New Orleans and I’m later raised in that same home.  And go ahead, Jeanne.

Jeanne Samuels:  Well, he of course, Edgar Goldberg, the man who… He was a printer.  And he was out of the home before Joe was even born because that was 1908; Joe was 1915.  But we, the man, when Edgar Goldberg died somebody by the name of David White purchased it from the family because Edgar only had two daughters who weren’t interested.  When Dave died, his kids were all up East.  So we had the opportunity to purchase it and Joe said at the time that we purchased it that this was going to be a newspaper for the entire community.  We’re going to bring everybody into it that wants to be in it.  We do serve the Jewish Community of Houston and the Greater Gulf Coast.  And it’s rather interesting when kids get married and move away they still will subscribe to the Herald as far away as in Washington State of—

Joe Samuels:  Alaska, yeah.

Jeanne Samuels:  Alaska, we have one in Alaska.  And it’s, we have been told this and I do—  It’s nice to hear it and I think I sort of believe it is that the Herald in being as inclusive as we are is the glue that holds the entire Jewish community together because there are various divisions of Judaism like Orthodoxy and Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist, but it all comes together in the Herald. And of course it’s an English language paper.  We primarily serve the Houston community with the news of the Houston community.  Also State, statewide, national and international news.  So—

Cash:  Give us an example of what your front, a typical front page might be.

Jeanne Samuels:  Well a typical front page may have something that’s very important in the Jewish community.  Maybe it’s the head, you know, the lead story.  We like to have something international on the front page if we can.  And—

Joe Samuels:  To give, an interesting example an Israeli was dying in Israel and a doctor here in Houston decided that he would accept an invitation to go to Israel, see this man and see if he could save his life.  And that became the base story that particular week.  Jeannenie, you can tell her.

Jeanne Samuels:  This was a doctor from the Medical Center, non-Jewish.  The man apparently was the only person in the world that could resolve this particular situation.  And he, I think Israel paid for his flight but that’s all he would accept.  And he pulled this man through.  The man was expected to die in the next 24-48 hours.  So that was quite, an international and medical thing.  It was a great story.  We have something going on in Houston right now.  There are some anti-Israel Arabs that have commandeered an overpass over the Southwest Freeway which is a very highly traveled freeway between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, or something, I forget exactly what time.  And there was anti-Israel slogans and shouting things down to traffic.  So a group got together including our grandson Michael, daughter Vicki, and they called themselves “The Bridge, something the Bridge People.”  And they have countered this and they’ll go up there too.  It’s been all peaceful, but it’s been very productive and it’s, just recently, well on Martin Luther King Day Vicki marched in the parade and Michael did photography and it was the Bridge People who did the marching, they call themselves the Bridge People.  And so that was our lead story, the banner.  We have, Vicki’s been with us since she got out of Iran.  She was there with her husband during—

Joe Samuels:  Iran, Iran.

Jeanne Samuels:  Didn’t I say Iran?  Yeah.

Joe Samuels:  Oh, I thought you said Iraq.

Jeanne Samuels:  Oh, no.  So she’s been with us since 1979 and we have made her president of the Herald now, Joe is CEO.  He is still publisher, I’m still editor.  Michael is Associate Editor and our grandson from Baton Rouge is with us now, thank goodness.  He’s a marvelous addition to the paper along with Michael.  He does, his page layout is so good.  He has beautiful page layout and he’s also our webmaster and he still does sports because he’s been in sports.  He was a sports editor at Baton Rouge Advocate.

Joe Samuels:  When he started writing for us, how—

Jeanne Samuels:  Oh, yes.  This particular grandson who has just joined us as such, has really been writing for us since he was 12 years old.  Joe took him to an Astro’s game and they were sitting in the Press Box and 12-year old Matt is busy spouting statistics and color during the whole game and the sports editor or writer on the other side of Joe said that kid knows more than I do.

Joe Samuels:  A great feeling.

Jeanne Samuels:  Yeah.  Joe said Matt would you like to write a team sports column for us?  So it’s interesting to look at the very first column head, this little boy’s face and now this is the father of two children.  And he is full-time on our staff and doing a wonderful job as the two cousins are just marvelous together.  We’re so fortunate.

Cash:  How often do you publish?

Jeanne Samuels:  We’re weekly and we go to press Tuesday later afternoon.  The paper’s addressed Wednesday and down at the post office by noon of Wednesday.  And hopefully, prayerfully, in our subscriber’s mail boxes Thursday.

Cash:  So over the years what have been the big stories for you to publish?

Jeanne Samuels:  One of the, of course one of the biggest was the Declaration of Israel Independence as a nation.  And let me back up here.  When we celebrated our 100th Anniversary, Michael went back through the hundred years and one year more, the current year, and blew up the front page of one issue from every, was it from every week?

Cash:  Every year?

Jeanne Samuels:  It wasn’t. Yes, it had to have been from every year, of course, what’s the matter with me.  It was wonderful.  We mounted them on this foam board and we had a display in the Jewish Community Center and it was quite something.  So now they’re all wrapped up, a few of them went to the Clayton Library, which is a genealogy library in Houston.

Cash:  So this has been mostly a family operation for you?

Jeanne Samuels:  Oh, yes.  Definitely.  We have a cast, a cast, a staff of 23 people, two of whom are part-timers and, but most, of course—

Cash:  And what is your circulation in 2010?

Jeanne Samuels:  In 2010 it has dropped drastically because of the Internet and websites.  We do have a website which is a very nice one.  I think it’s very good and Matt is in charge of that now that he’s here.  It’s under 6,000 subscribers.  We’re told through surveys that we have a readership of around 30,000 individuals.

Cash:  Do you charge for access to your Internet site?

Jeanne Samuels:  No we haven’t. We’ve been very slow on reaping any rewards from that.  We don’t really have any revenue coming from our website yet.  We’re looking to do something about that but it’s kinda hard to rev it up.  We have one, a few advertisers on the website, very few.  But the, our, we had about 7000 subscribers originally and with the Internet it has just dropped off.  I mean people just, all you have to do is just hit your mouse and you get the news you want, but there’s still people, thankfully, who like the hard copy, they like to have the paper in their hand and we have some very, very loyal subscribers.  We have some advertisers who have been advertising for years and years.  We have a staff that has been with us from the very beginning of our ownership, that’s Mary Jane just celebrated her 35th year with us in December.  We have several others that are 29 years and 28 years.  And, a rather diverse staff.  We have had employees of every—  One was, I can’t think of what it was, an atheist.  You didn’t say God bless you to him if he sneezed.  We have Catholics, we have Baptists, we have someone who is a, what is ____?  I can’t think.

Joe Samuels:  Vietnam, Vietnamese.

Jeanne Samuels:  I can’t think what it is.  That’s terrible.  I lose words.

Cash:  Well, now since you have the word Jewish in your name, in the newspaper’s name.  Do you think that influences advertisers one way or the other?

Jeanne Samuels:  Yes and no.  My favorite story about an advertiser, we—  I don’t think we’d had the paper a year.  A Chinese restaurant out near Hobby Airport wanted to advertise and Joe said we’d love to have you, however, there are very few of our readers that live in that area and you  might not get—

Joe Samuels:  Any response.

Jeanne Samuels:  —any response.  He said no, I just came from the University of Houston’s School of—

Cash:  Hospitality, Hotels, Restaurant?

Jeanne Samuels:  —and they said that Jews liked Chinese food and so I want to advertise.  He did and he grew because, as I like to say, Jews like good food and they’ll drive a few miles to get good food.  And then there’s some that will say well I don’t know that, I don’t know whether my co-workers would understand my advertising in a Jewish newspaper.  We’ve had that happen once.  Can you add anything to that, Baby?

Joe Samuels:  How did you get into this work?

Cash:  No, the interview is about you, Mr. Samuels; not about I.

Jeanne Samuels:  He’ll usually turn that around very quickly.  He’s, I’ve never. We’ll be in a restaurant and the first thing you know he knows the life history of the people at the next table.

Cash:  So what about ethical dilemmas?  Have there been occasions where you had to sit back and think how are we going to handle this situation?

Jeanne Samuels:  Oh, yes.

Joe Samuels:  The worst problems we have are on endorsing candidates because our readership goes out a hundred percent and votes where normally you wouldn’t find that many people voting—

Jeanne Samuels:  In any group.

Joe Samuels:  And, yes.  Sometimes we cause a particular person to get elected because our readership goes out and votes when voting time comes.

Jeanne Samuels:  When the vote is low, particularly if there’s, people are—  I mean it’s such a crime people don’t vote.  It really aggravates me terribly, but if people don’t get out and vote and the Jewish Community comes out and votes because this is your civic duty, this is what you’re supposed to do.  And sometimes it’ll spell a smaller vote percentagewise as we are it can spell a difference.

Joe Samuels:  We may be responsible for the person who just got elected mayor for the City of Houston because a 100 percent of our community went out and voted for him where maybe 20 percent of the community voted overall in her election

Jeanne Samuels:  We have a very competent, wonderful mayor who is a Lesbian.  She’s been in civic duty for years and years.  She’s been on City Council.  She has been City Comptroller for years.  And a remarkable woman and there was a lot of nasty publicity against her and I think our community realizing the kind of person she is. . . .

Joe Samuels:  I guess for the past 35 years, never missing one week of printing this paper.

Jeanne Samuels:  36 years.  Oh, I will say this that when Hurricane Ike hit we had no power or anything. Our –  the young man that was then our web manager, had an apartment in the area of town that still had power and Vicki went over to Stu’s apartment and they managed to put —  Where were we?  Is that when I was in the hospital.  I don’t know.  We were sort of out of commission at that time, I guess.  Vicki went over there and they got the paper put together and got it over to the printer and it went out and when other things were not going out at all.  So it really didn’t miss, didn’t miss a beat.  It was really great.  And when moved into our little building that we bought 24 years ago, we were moving from the one office to the new building, we did it in increments and it never missed a beat, the whole thing, just followed through.  So I guess that’s something to be proud of.

Joe Samuels:  Yeah.  We’re behind what used to be the Pink Pussy Cat and Jeanne said the girls weren’t nude. They wore shoes.

Jeanne Samuels:  And when we bought the building there was a field behind us that was all overgrown so Joe thought he’d get out there one afternoon and just chop it down and so he, we had a machete, heaven knows where we got it from.  But he went out there with a machete and started chopping and got to thinking, maybe people at the Pink Pussy Cat would help us keep it clean.  It would be good for them too.  So of course we’re here and they’re there so he goes to the door and somebody comes to the door and he’s standing there of course with machete in his hand, and the fellow quickly agrees to help and they never did, but that was a funny experience.  But we have a wonderful staff, some very loyal people.  We had a friend who was a printer who did small jobs for us like oh, you know, business cards and letterheads and things like that and he used to say that our office had the greatest collection of misfits that he’d ever seen.  And is it all right if I talk about Arnold?

Joe Samuels:  Certainly.

Jeanne Samuels:  We have a gentleman who’s been with us for 29 years now.  He was a night editor, headline editor or, no a writer at the Chronicle.  And he got very upset with the Chronicle’s bias against Israel.  So one night he went through the Editor-in-Chief’s desk and was re-writing headlines and he was summarily fired which well he should be.  Anyhow, he went to the Anti-Defamation League because he felt that there was, you know, it was anti-Jewish.  He did something that was wrong so they called us and they said do you have a place for this man?  Joe said no.  Some time later somebody came to us and wanted us to typeset a book for them and we didn’t have the – we didn’t have enough staff for that so we called Arnold and he agreed and since he had worked at night anyhow, marvelous typist, and he came and he set the book for us and we found out in the process that the things, he knew many things that we did not know.  We’re Jews, but we’re not Orthodox Jews or Jews that are fundamentalists or anything like that and there are many things we don’t know.  And Arnold knew everything.  So we can go to him, he is a good reference point.  He’s a good proofreader, I mean he’s not a proof reader, but he goes in and he looks things over.  Many times Joe has wanted to dismiss him but I have said okay, we’ll write down all of his assets on one side and all of his detractions on the other side and his assets will out-weigh the other.  So he’s been with us all these years.  We have in fairly recent years come to the knowledge that he has, which accounts for all of his idioscyincracies and his flying off the handle.  And there are people in the office he won’t talk to him because he doesn’t think they do the right thing.  And he doesn’t feel that, this is a Jewish newspaper, you’re not doing it the right way, you know.  But then he loves his work and there’s really nothing else he can do and he’s going to be 70 very shortly and he’s, he’s an asset.  He’s a source of conversation, which maybe isn’t a nice thing to say but it’s not a bad thing.

Cash:  I think that’s interesting. Not the least of which are Joe and Jeanne Samuels.

Jeanne Samuels:  Well.

Cash:  And you go into the office every day?

Jeanne Samuels:  We still go in—

Joe Samuels:  Eight days a week, yeah.

Jeanne Samuels:  Uh-huh, both – Sometimes we’ll just go six or maybe, but we don’t go in at 8:00 and come home at midnight any more.  We may go in around 10:00-10:30, we may work until 9:00 o’clock at night but we come in late. We sort of drag in.

Cash:  So any plans for retirement?

Joe Samuels:  No.  We two, we don’t take a salary out of there.  I’m on a retirement from the Air Force and that’s how we live and it’s a lot of fun and we have I think a good effect on the community.

Cash:  Would you encourage young people interested in a career in journalism?  Is there a future in journalism?

Joe Samuels:  We start out doing that for young kids in high school.

Jeanne Samuels:  Yeah, we help, we help teens from various high schools to come in and be teen editor or be teen reporters and it, I think that it, I mean as much as our readership or subscribership, not readership, has dropped there are still people that like to have a paper in front of them and to look at.  There are people, our next door neighbors among them, who will not subscribe to the Chronicle because they don’t like it.  Sadly it’s the only business, only daily in town.  I mean four million people and one daily.  But I think there’s still gonna be newsprint.  There’s still gonna be newsprint, diminished.

Cash:  And what advice would you give to these aspiring young journalists?

Joe Samuels:  We would give every one of them that come in the office an opportunity.

Jeanne Samuels:  No, what advice.

Joe Samuels:  Oh, advice?

Cash:  Would you give to someone thinking about a career in journalism?

Joe Samuels:  Oh, right, today it’s a little bit difficult but I would think tomorrow it will still be there and a great experience for a person to learn all about somebody they never knew existed.

Jeanne Samuels:  Somebody and some things?  Place, there are many things in this world you wouldn’t know about unless you went to report them.

Joe Samuels:  We go to our printer as email and the printer is actually a man who lives in England but comes from North Africa and is what you would think would be an enemy of the Jewish world.

Jeanne Samuels:  He left when Muammar Kaddafi came into power he left there and he bought this printer which is a very good printer and we’ve been with them for years and years and years.  In fact their, oh gosh, their press supervisor or whatever, was somebody from Jordan. . . . . .

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