Jack Schwartz, a lifelong newspaperman, knew early that he was best suited to the kinds of jobs that are valued in a newsroom but largely invisible to the reading public.
In the fall of 1959 he landed a job out of college as a reporter for The Long Island Press, based in Queens, and a few months later found himself covering his first big story, a hotel fire on Atlantic Beach, on the South Shore. But he never actually went to the scene; instead he pieced the story together from telephone interviews and wire service copy.
“I found that I could visualize something much better in my head by not being there,” he deadpanned 55 years later in “The Fine Print: My Life as a Deskman,” a memoir.
“Happily,” he added, “most reporters didn’t share my inclinations, but it was clear to me that my proclivities were for indoor tasks: rewrite, editing, shaping the work of people who loved to go out and scramble, bang on doors and run with the pack.”
It was in those types of behind-the-scenes jobs that Schwartz became a familiar and mentoring figure to several generations of New York journalists, primarily through his long stints at Newsday and The New York Times.
At The Times, where he was first hired in 1973, he was a mainstay on a series of desks, editing for the Week in Review (now the Sunday Review section), the Sunday Magazine and Arts & Leisure and on the culture and metropolitan desks. Before joining The Times he had been a reporter and editor at Newsday, and in 1988 he returned to that paper as book editor. He later filled the same role at The Daily News before returning to The Times to finish out his career.
“Jack was such a masterly editor, learned and literary, with a twinkling sense of humor that infused the headlines he wrote and polished,” Jan Benzel, one of dozens of former Times colleagues wrote on a Facebook alumni group. “And, as all are saying, a remarkably nice man.”
Schwartz’s wife, Dr. Nella Shapiro, said he died of complications of COVID-19 at a hospital in the Bronx. He was 82 and lived in Chappaqua, New York.
Jacob David Schwartz was born on May 9, 1938, in the Bronx to Isadore and Pauline (Bonnick) Schwartz. His father was a produce manager, his mother a homemaker.
As a student at City College of New York, Schwartz worked on The Campus, the college newspaper. One of its editors at the time was Edward Kosner, who would go on to edit Newsweek, New York and Esquire magazines and The Daily News.
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1977, Schwartz is survived by two children, Max and Molly Schwartz, and two grandchildren.
After retiring in 2005, he continued to write and also taught, including at Columbia University. Ari L. Goldman, a journalism professor there, had experienced Schwartz’s teaching abilities firsthand at The Times.
“I was a young reporter on metro and wrote an obit on deadline,” he said by email. “Jack was on the copy desk. Most copy editors didn’t look at me, but Jack called me over and asked me to sit down.”
“He went over some basic style errors and then he added: ‘And you don’t have to make the guy a hero.’ He took out my adjectives. ‘Just tell his story.’”