Buerger's son to run Jewish Times 'No one likes to replace a legend'

November 27, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Andrew A. Buerger, the son of late Baltimore Jewish Times publisher Charles A. Buerger, yesterday said he will succeed his father as publisher of what many consider the premier Jewish newspaper in America.

"No one likes to replace a legend," Buerger, 31, said. "Certainly my father and I are a lot alike. I look, sound and act like him. But I am not Chuck. I will not replace him. I will not stop the pain felt from his departure."

The elder Buerger died after heart surgery on Nov. 8. He was 58. While promising the same devotion to independent journalism that marked the career of his father, Andrew Buerger outlined daunting challenges and promised new solutions.

"We are witnessing intermarriage rates of over 50 percent, assimilation rates are skyrocketing, and young adults today are indifferent to their grandparents' stories of the Holocaust," said Buerger, currently publisher of the Jewish Bulletin in Vancouver, British Columbia. "The next generation of Baltimore's Jewish leadership doesn't have the same connection to Israel as their parents, who watched the struggle for Israel's birth."

Under his leadership, the weekly newspaper will launch a site on the World Wide Web and make other moves aimed at capturing the elusive younger readers coveted by advertisers. "I understand that demographic," he said. "I am that demographic."

Ronnie Buerger, the widow of Charles Buerger and mother of Andrew, stood at the back of an office in the newspaper's North Charles Street office when her son made the announcement. "Even though the timing is not right, we're all very happy Andy's coming back to town. Chuck would have been proud," she said.

"I'm glad the family line continues," said Gary Rosenblatt, former editor who is now editor and publisher of the Jewish Week in New York. "For practical and emotional reasons, it's a very heartening move."

The Baltimore Jewish Times was founded in 1919 by Charles Buerger's grandfather, David Alter. Over the years, it had been published by his grandmother and mother and featured bar mitzvah notices, weddings, reviews and the comings and goings of Baltimore's Jewish community.

Charles Buerger took over the paper in 1972 and changed its tone. The newspaper covered diplomatic efforts to halt the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and ran an examination of the fund-raising efforts of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

In the 1980s, Buerger's company bought or established Jewish newspapers in Florida, Atlanta, Detroit and Vancouver.

Andrew Buerger, who represents the fourth generation of his family to guide the Baltimore Jewish Times, said yesterday that his father prepared him by having him work in every job. That included cleaning printing presses.

After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1987, Buerger served as media director for Cornerstone Advertising in Baltimore.

He left in 1991 to attend graduate school at the University of Colorado. He received a master's in business administration in 1993, then worked 18 months as the circulation marketing director for the family-owned newspaper group. In Vancouver, Buerger doubled the circulation of the Jewish Bulletin to about 5,000.

Buerger attributed the success in Vancouver in part to improved graphics. He also said the newspaper printed results from Jewish softball and hockey leagues -- moves aimed at capturing young readers.

The Baltimore Jewish Times, with a circulation of about 20,000, also needs to capture young readers. "We need to have stories that will speak to these people," Buerger said. While trying to attract young readers, the newspaper will also strive to be "a unifying force for the various different segments of our community," Buerger said.

Buerger said he would not involve himself in the day-to-day operation of the newspaper. He also said the newspaper would not sacrifice its tradition of strong reporting. "I don't think we can waver," he said. "Our readers know what we're writing is not fluff. That can't change."

Buerger will start as publisher in March. Sylvia Boyko Stafford, the former general manager, will serve in the position on an interim basis until then.

Michael Davis, the newspaper's current editor, said he didn't expect any changes at all in the newspaper's editorial approach. "Andrew will not be Chuck," he said. "He will be Andrew. And that's good enough."

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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