By Alan J. Wax
It was the late 1960s. The State University at Stony Brook was a tumultuous place with an almost constant parade of drug arrests, anti-war demonstrations and protests about conditions on a campus that seemed constantly under construction. I was a relatively new reporter at Statesman. My only training, like that of all my colleagues who toiled in the newspaper’s office in the basement of the then-new Stony Brook Union, was gained only on the job, taught by others who knew little more.
But in the fall of 1969, Marty Buskin arrived on campus and things began to change. Buskin, then education editor of Newsday, had begun teaching a basic journalism course under the aegis of the English Department. A few of the editors at Statesman were taking the class. My friend, Statesman editor Richie Puz, was extremely enthusiastic and urged me to “take Buskin” in the spring semester.
I remember those Monday nights on the second floor of the Humanities Building in a classroom filled with manual typewriters. Buskin was an imposing figure with his girth and height – he was 6’2″ and weighed 230 pounds. His cherubic face was accentuated by his black glasses, sideburns that reached below his ears and an ever-present pipe.
Buskin would lumber into the classroom late more often than not because of Newsday deadlines that had to be met, but his explanations often turned into another war story for his students. He entertained us with anecdotes about his work at Newsday, as an editor and a reporter. Buskin was a funny guy and he was not afraid of poking fun at those he wrote about or his bosses at the newspaper.
Despite it all, Buskin managed to teach us how to write the “inverted pyramids” of news stories. He held mock press conferences and distributed unused press releases for the class to rewrite. We wrote editorials, reviews and features, which Buskin gently corrected. He taught us in a fatherly way and could take a piece of copy and tell a student, “This is a piece of junk. You don’t want to hand this in.” We accepted this from him. We loved and respected him.
A year later, Buskin added a second Stony Brook class that met once a month. The course essentially was a mechanism for giving Statesman staffers credit for working on the newspaper. At these sessions, held in Statesman’s conference room, Buskin would rip apart the recent editions, criticizing the writing, the headlines and the layout. But he was also quick to congratulate a job well done, especially for getting stories that Newsday failed to do.
Because of Marty Buskin, Statesman had become more professional and gained respect on and off the campus.
Many of us on the newspaper’s staff were inspired by him. A handful of us would go on to careers in journalism. Not bad for a university where the only journalism program was a one-man show called Buskin.
As we would later learn from his obituary, Marty Buskin was born in Brooklyn in 1930 and at the age of 11 he was editor of the Highway Herald, a mimeographed paper at his elementary school, P.S. 238. He graduated from James Madison High School in 1947 and from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1951. He joined the Army in 1951 and was sent to Korea as a military policeman.
Buskin worked for a now-defunct news wire service, Trans-Radio Press, and then joined Newsday in 1953 as a general assignment reporter. In 1955, he became a copy editor and in 1959, he became feature copy editor. He became education editor in 1962, covering school issues affecting kindergartners, graduate students and everyone in between. He won prizes for his work. He became president of the national Education Writers Association. He wrote a book.
I remember visiting Buskin in his office in Garden City, where Newsday used to be located. It was not much bigger than the small cubicles of today’s newspapers and it overflowed with books and government reports stacked high. Outside, his secretary, Shirley Graham, sat a desk with her huge dog stretched out in front. He never failed to greet me with his trademark phrase, “As I live and breathe, if it isn’t Alan Wax.”
Marty Buskin died suddenly on Feb. 8, 1976, at the age of 45. He is remembered today in many ways, including the Martin Buskin Award for Campus Journalism, the Martin Buskin Committee for Campus Journalism, seminars, conferences and this Web site.
Alan J. Wax is president of public relations firm WaxWords Inc., and a former business reporter at Newsday. He graduated from Stony Brook in 1971. Before graduating, he was a news editor and business manager at The Stony Brook Statesman, a campus stringer for Newsday and a Newsday summer intern in 1970 and 1971.