A Place for Jews

Metroland article

A Place for Jews

Longtime newsman Marc Gronich creates a website tailored to the interests of the upstate Jewish community

by Shawn Stone on August 7, 2014

Longtime journalist Marc Gronich’s “ah-ha” moment, when he decided it was time to create a website dedicated to Jewish life and interests, arrived courtesy of Times Union editor Rex Smith.

Smith had just given a talk at a local synagogue, and Gronich went up to him and asked why the TU didn’t devote more coverage to the Jewish community. Smith explained that the paper didn’t have enough resources or editorial staff to devote to covering any one specific community.

“Ah-ha,” Gronich thought. This is an opportunity.

So, in February of this year, Gronich launched JBizTechValley.com, a website specifically tailored to Jewish interests.

“There are over 20,000 Jews in this area,” Gronich says. The area that JBizTechValley.com covers spans from the North Country to the Hudson Valley. The site has extensive directories of synagogues, Jewish organizations and businesses, along with sections dedicated to news (“News Jews Can Use”) and educational institutions (which, he says, drives a lot of traffic to the website).

“People don’t realize how special we are in this area,” Gronich says.

Eventually, Gronich hopes to add video to the website’s text and audio features. The longtime radio reporter at the New York State Capitol is now active in video production. We meet at Channel Albany, the public access studio in the basement of the Albany Public Library. After introducing Channel Albany’s public access coordinator Joseph Alindato, we sit down in the studio to talk.

This is where Gronich records the cable-access show The Jewish View, which he co-hosts with Rabbi Nachman Simon. The show airs in Albany and Bethlehem—and episodes are available for viewing at JBizTechValley.com, too. (Previously, Rabbi Simon had hosted the show solo for a couple of decades, and it was shown only on Bethlehem cable.)

“When this [the Channel Albany studio] opened up, I said to Rabbi Simon, ‘Why don’t we do the show in Albany and get three guests every Wednesday?’”

Many, but not all, of the show’s guests are Jewish. The day after this interview, Gronich will play host to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. The wide range of past guests include a host of local and statewide politicians (Republicans, Democrats and members of the Senate’s ruling coalition, the IDC); members of the arts community (Proctors’ Philip Morris); and members of the business community. Gronich says he tries to be evenhanded to everyone.

“I don’t have an agenda. I play devil’s advocate,” he says, joking that he and Rabbi Simon almost have good-cop, bad-cop roles. (Gronich is the bad cop, of course.)

“I like dealing with these people,” he says. “They feel comfortable saying things they wouldn’t in a more formal setting. . . . I try to make them laugh.” (Gronich himself tells a pretty fair joke.)

“I try to make it informative, with no ‘gotcha’ moments.”

He can’t get everyone, however. For whatever reasons, some politicians and political activists have avoided appearing on the show. But enough do go on that it makes for an interesting range of views.

Gronich’s current ventures reflect the changes in journalism over the last three decades. As a SUNY Albany student—this was long before the rebranding as “UAlbany” was dreamed up by the powers that be—Gronich’s first journalism experience was in public radio.

“I started at WAMC in 1978, when they were on Madison Avenue,” he says, as a volunteer working for then-news director David Galletly. At the end of his time at the station, the quality of Gronich’s work turned the experience into an internship for credit at SUNYA.

This was followed by a stint as a stringer for radio station WDST in Woodstock in 1980; in 1981, he founded the Statewide News Service, which became, over the following decades, a source of locally tailored radio reports for a network of 50 stations across New York state.

“The first five years were the hardest,” Gronich says. At the beginning, he also worked as a clerk at the old Branch Drugs at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street, where he’d meet all the same legislators he’d later be interviewing at the Capitol. He also met the late Andy Rooney at the drugstore’s old lunch counter, where he gamely tried out an Andy Rooney impression. (“Who are you,” Rooney replied.)

After that first five years, the business took off. Local stations that couldn’t afford to send reporters to Albany used the Statewide News Service.

Technology rendered the original way his news service worked obsolete: “Now, with the Internet, everything’s available,” Gronich says. He’s kept the Statewide News Service name alive as the parent company to JBizTechValley.com, however.

Gronich hopes the website becomes more than a local resource. The directories, he hopes, will help interest Jews from other regions in moving here, just by helping them recognize the scope of upstate’s wide-ranging Jewish communities.

“The Capital District has a lot to offer,” Gronich says.