Michael Aron’s legacy: Journalism as Both Craft and Profession, Par Excellence

Aron

Last week, Michael Aron announced that he will be stepping down from his daily role as Chief Political Correspondent at NJTV News and reducing his involvement to that of a weekly contributor.  Even in semi-retirement, Michael will be known as the Dean of the State House Press Corps, a title he so richly deserves.

As a Harvard grad, Michael had both the talent and the credentials to become a leading political journalist at any of our major national television networks.   He chose, however, to devote his career exclusively to the coverage of New Jersey politics.  As a result of his decision, over the past four decades, the Garden State has had in Michael Aron the finest state political journalist in the nation.

In his years as Chief Political Correspondent at both NJN and NJTV, Michael played three roles, all of them flawlessly.

He was the leading authoritative factual reporter on all newsworthy items in the governmental and political realms.  He was the principal moderator for all station political talk shows, in particular, On the Record and Reporters Roundtable, which Michael established as “must see” programs for followers of the New Jersey political scene. He was also when called upon a superb analyst of all news events and trends.

In my career in politics, both as a governmental official and as a journalist, I have had many gratifying media moments, including appearances on national political shows like ABC Nightline.  But I am most proud of the television shows in which I appeared as a guest panelist of Michael Aron, including Election Night 2010, the last election night of the late, great NJN.

I will never forget the words Michael spoke to me as I left the studio that night, walking to catch a train.  He said, “Alan, we did good work together tonight.”  After receiving a compliment like that from the Dean Michael Aron, I could have walked on air all the way from Trenton to my then home in West Orange!

Michael has always had an extremely rare journalistic personality trait.  As an interviewer, he is always unfailingly polite toward his subject yet earnest in pursuit of the facts.  His courtesy is most manifest when he interviews a person with bizarre political views.  Michael may smile at statements his subject may make, but he would never respond with ridicule.

There is one historic academic contribution of Michael Aron that almost always is overlooked. He authored the 1993 book, Governor’s Race, a day-by-day chronicle of the 1993 New Jersey gubernatorial election in which Republican Christie Whitman defeated incumbent Democrat Governor Jim Florio.  This outstanding work is New Jersey’s answer to the Making of the President books written by Theodore H. White.  Governor’s Race should be mandatory reading for all gubernatorial candidates and in all college courses on New Jersey Politics and Government.

In evaluating Michael Aron’s New Jersey journalistic legacy, there is an overriding factor that stands out.  Journalism in the late 20th century emerged as both a craft and a profession.  Each of these roles warrants separate explanation.

In the first half of the 20th Century, journalism was essentially a craft with a two-fold mission: 1) getting all the facts and essential background relating to the story; and 2) conveying the story to the public in a form that was both comprehensive and comprehensible.

In the second half of the 20th Century, the American public, by and large, came to mistrust both the competency and integrity of government and sought an alternative source of analysis of issues.  And Americans found their new source of public issue analysis in the media.

The analysis of public issues is indeed a profession.  It requires a strong degree of current issue and historical erudition, and well-developed skills of insight, logical reasoning, and assessment.  Thus was born journalism as a profession.

When I think of reporters who demonstrated superior journalistic craft skills, I think of the dynamic New York duo of the late Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.  They outworked everybody, wrote stories with a veracity that was beyond question, and told them in a most compelling way.

When I think of columnists who were exemplars of superb journalistic professionalism, I think of giants of the industry like the late David Broder and still active scribes like George Will, Eugene Robinson, and David Ignatius.  If you read the latter three regularly, you will have an excellent insight into the major issues of the day.

But if you watched Michael Aron on television on a nightly basis over the last three decades, you were blessed with the ultimate New Jersey treasure.  You saw this craft journalist get the story before everybody else and tell it to you better than anybody else.  And when asked to evaluate what was at stake at present and in the future on the issue in question, Michael Aron would give you an analysis that displayed the ultimate in journalistic professionalism.

And as Michael Aron begins a richly deserved period of semi-retirement, he must be anointed with the ultimate Alan Steinberg sports analogy.

I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan.  A few years ago, Michael related to me how as a youth he went with his father to Eagles games at old, venerated Franklin Field.

My favorite Philadelphia Eagle of that era was Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik.  And Michael Aron has been my favorite New Jersey journalist.  Both Concrete Charlie and Michael were two-way players.  Chuck played both offense at center and defense at middle linebacker.  He was an All -NFL player at both positions. Like Bednarik, Michael performed two roles supremely, as both a craft journalist and professional journalist.

So that does it – Michael has been the Chuck Bednarik of New Jersey journalism!  Of course – Michael has been much more elegant, erudite, and articulate than Concrete Charlie!

One more suggestion, Michael.  Write another book!  It can contain all your stories of interviewing political characters of all walks of life, including the night Bill Clinton called you to complain that you were not obsequious enough to him!  And please autograph my copy!

And in your retirement years, Michael, may you and your family be blessed with health, wealth, and time to enjoy them.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. 

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One response to “Michael Aron’s legacy: Journalism as Both Craft and Profession, Par Excellence”

  1. I have always liked Michael Arin but he’s not been prescient or able to do much but express the common wisdom. In 2018, days before Lisa McCormick stunned the political establishment by earning 159,998 votes in her Democratic primary challenge, Aron told CBS News the challenger had no chance against Senator Bob Menendez.

    He never revealed the secret workings behind the ballot rigging that occurs when power brokers designate the candidates to run on the ‘party line’ that conveys advantages to their minions.

    He was not the reporter who broke big news about Bridgegate, the Mcgreevey scandals or other Soprano State stories about corruption and selfishness. He was a capable representative of the political establishment and a government employee who never rocked the boat.

    I wish him well in retirement but Alan Steinberg is off base promoting Michael Arons’ career into an equivalent of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

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