Gordon F. Joseloff, editor and publisher of WestportNow, former Westport first selectman and an award-winning veteran journalist who reported from London, Moscow, Tokyo, and other world capitals for United Press International and CBS News for more than two decades, died Nov. 9, 2020. He was 75.
Gordon Joseloff: journalist WN photo
He had been battling a rare blood cancer, myelofibrosis, for three years.
Joseloff founded WestportNow in March 2003 as one of the nation’s first community news websites. Since then, it has gained national attention and is often cited as a model for Internet community journalism sites. It has won numerous awards for excellence from the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Westporters could get almost instant news of bombings in Beirut, but it often took days to learn of something happening in Westport,” he often explained as the reason for starting WestportNow.
Joseloff was editor as well as publisher of WestportNow from its founding until November 2005 when he was elected first selectman of Westport. He liked to say “I’ve been shot at, arrested, beaten up, tear gassed in my career and that helped prepare me for political life in Westport.”
During his tenure with Selectwoman Shelly Kassen he oversaw such events as Superstorm Sandy and helped the town to make technological leaps.
They include cable telecasting, live Internet streaming, and archiving most town meetings, real-time camera surveillance at the Westport train station, Code Red calls during times of emergency, solar-powered charging stations and town hybrid vehicles, online registration for the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as myriad Information Technology Department initiatives aimed at efficiency and cost reductions.
Upon his swearing in as Westport’s first selectman, Joseloff announced he was relinquishing his editor’s position but would remain publisher and a contributing photographer.
Upon the end of his eight years in office in November 2013, Joseloff again added editor to his publisher duties.
During a 16-year career at CBS News, Joseloff served as a correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. He started at CBS as a writer for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather and went on to cover some of the world’s major news stories—everything from presidential summits and economic conferences to disasters, riots and revolutions.
In Moscow for CBS, Joseloff covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the resulting U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. He was the first U.S. network correspondent into Poland in August 1980 when the Solidarity trade union movement was born led by Lech Walesa.
While in Tokyo for CBS, his coverage included the Soviet shoot down of Korean Air Lines flight 007, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India (for which he shared an Emmy Award in 1984), the Bhopal, India gas leak that killed thousands, the overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the illness and death of Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
After returning from overseas in 1989, he coordinated special projects for CBS News in New York and helped organize the network’s coverage of the 1991 Gulf War.
In 1993, he joined Simba Information Inc., a Wilton, Conn. media consulting and publishing firm. While there, he founded and became editor-in-chief of Media Daily, an online publication covering the media and information industries. He was also vice president of Simba’s electronic publishing division.
Then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal congratulates Joseloff after swearing him for a second term in 2009. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Prior to joining CBS News in 1975, he was a correspondent and editor for UPI in New York, London and Moscow. He started as a summer replacement in UPI’s Albany, N.Y. bureau in 1964 while in college. He has also written for Time magazine and The New York Times, among others.
Joseloff has been honored by the Writers Guild of America for news writing.
A 1967 graduate of Syracuse University, Joseloff was a freelance editor and writer in Westport before founding WestportNow.
Prior to his eight years as first selectman, he served 14 years on the town’s legislative body, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). He was first elected to the RTM in 1991, became Deputy Moderator in 1993, and was elected Moderator in 1995.
His 10-year tenure as RTM leader was matched by only one other person in its history.
Joseloff was also active in other community affairs, including serving as an honorary member of the advisory board of the Westport Historical Society, and a member of the Westport Rotary Club and the League of Women Voters of Westport.
He was cited by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee in 2013 for lifetime achievement in journalism. He is a member of the Overseas Press Club of America and The National Press Club.
He was a volunteer firefighter and a former volunteer Emergency Medical Technician in Westport.
Gordon Frederic Joseloff was born May 13, 1945, in New York, the twin son of advertising executive and Hollywood radio producer Stanley Joseloff. His mother Barbara was a noted interior decorator. Joseloff’s grandfather Robert was in real estate and built Westport’s Fine Arts Theatre in 1916, the first movie theater in town. It closed in 1999.
The family moved to Westport soon after in 1945. Joseloff attended Westport schools through the fifth grade until his parents divorced and he moved to New York City with his mother and spent summers in Westport with his father. He got the desire to travel the world while in elementary school, often daydreaming of living in London, Moscow, and Tokyo. “It was fortunate it came true,” he liked to tell people.
Joseloff began his journalism career in Westport working summers as a teenage reporter or the now-defunct Westport Town Crier. And he was a founder of WWPT, the predecessor of the Staples High School station.
In his teenage years, he was a summer weekend airplane traffic reporter for WICC in Bridgeport and served as the station’s New York correspondent where stories covered included John F. Kennedy’s 1962 birthday party at Madison Square Garden at which Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday.”
One of his favorite endeavors was accompanying former president Harry Truman on his early morning walks from the Carlyle Hotel.
He attended McBurney School for high school where he was editor of the award-winning McBurneian newspaper.
He met his former wife Suzy in Moscow where she was a governess for a U.S. diplomat. They had a daughter born in Helsinki and later a son born in Tokyo. The couple divorced in 1998.
Survivors include daughter Anna-Liisa, son Ben of Westport, six grandchildren: Ulysses, Delphine, Sam, Tallulah, Charlie, Louise, sisters Jill and Jody, brother Michael, former wife and best friend Suzy Joseloff Stark.
A memorial service and burial will be private after COVID-19 pandemic.
SATURDAY, JULY 18, 2009
A Westporter Remembers His Friend Walter Cronkite
By Gordon F. Joseloff
Special to WestportNow
To most Americans, he was the most trusted man in America. To me, Walter Cronkite was a good friend, a prized mentor, and a man to whom I owe much of my professional broadcast journalism career.
Walter Cronkite and Gordon F. Joseloff share a moment in Moscow in 1981 when Joseloff was the CBS News correspondent there. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) CBS News photo
Our connection was we both worked in Moscow for the United Press International (UPI) news agency. It was called United Press when Walter worked there in the late 1940s. It was UPI when I followed in his footsteps three decades later.
There was no doubt that the Moscow wire service connection solidified my journalistic credentials in Walter’s mind—something that became evident after CBS hired me in 1975 while in Moscow for UPI.
At CBS News, I began on the radio side, initially writing newscasts and occasional commentaries for Walter, as well as Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Ed Bradley, Roger Mudd, Charles Osgood, Douglas Edwards, and others.
Soon after, I moved to the television side and continued writing for them as well as other CBS luminaries. I was also given expanded duties of editing scripts of other writers and correspondents.
It would be an understatement to say that it was a thrill on the days that I sat a few feet away from Walter in the newsroom studio as the announcer intoned, “Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite…”
I’d even appear occasionally on screen as the camera took a wide shot of the newsroom, much to the delight of my family and friends.WestportNow.com Image
Gordon F. Joseloff is seen just above Walter Cronkite’s head in this 1979 “CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite” broadcast photo. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
Like many other aspiring journalists, I grew up watching Walter and idolizing him. I was watching when he told us John Kennedy had died, when he said the conflict in Vietnam could no longer be won, and when man walked on the moon.
Walter was not only anchor but managing editor of his broadcast, a dual title of which he was very proud. It gave him more control of what went on the broadcast, for which he demanded the best of everyone.
Unlike Roger Mudd, who sporadically would let a ruler fly across the studio during a commercial after something went wrong, I don’t recall ever seeing Walter get angry.
If there was an urgent wire service story that came in while he was on the air and I or another writer didn’t inform him about it during a taped piece or commercial break, he would be clearly upset. And he certainly was not happy when a competing broadcast had something we didn’t. But he rarely showed it.
He taught gently. Like the old wire service veteran that he was, he demanded a story be sourced accurately—and often would ask if I or other writers had double and triple checked a source’s veracity.
If he was not happy with a writer’s copy, he’d often swing around and pound out his own version on his typewriter. He’d tell you it was faster that way. You learned by his example.
It was at the Cronkites’ annual Christmas party at his New York town house in 1978 that my short CBS life changed.
We were all having a good time—and Walter and his wife Betsy certainly knew how to have a good time—when a CBS executive pulled me aside. He asked whether I’d be interested in returning to Moscow as the CBS correspondent. It clearly was an offer made with Walter’s blessing.
I said I did not have any on-camera television experience—something they knew, of course. But to Walter and others in the CBS hierarchy, that was less important than my journalistic experience and abilities. (Times unfortunately have changed in this regard.)
“Don’t worry,” Walter told me. “We’ll teach you what you need to know.” He even had his personal makeup artist teach me the basics of applying make up and sent me off to Moscow with a supply kit.
I had been doing reports from Moscow for almost two years when Walter signed off on his final broadcast on March 6, 1981. A little more than three weeks later, he was in my Moscow apartment as my dinner guest. He was in Moscow doing a CBS News documentary.
Suddenly, someone rushed in from the Reuters news agency bureau next door. “Reagan’s been shot,” he yelled. I’ll never forget Walter’s reaction as he heard those words. He sat bolt upright, his face got red, he got to his feet, and asked me to lead him to the Reuters office.
A throng had already gathered around the incoming news wire. Walter pushed his way in. A couple of correspondents did double takes as they turned around to see that the older man breathing down their necks was none other than Walter Cronkite. They had no idea he was in Moscow.
CBS was on the phone immediately demanding that I get Walter before a television camera. The nation needed to hear from the most trusted man in America at this perilous time. No matter that he was no longer the CBS Evening News anchor or that he was in Moscow where it was approaching midnight.
This was a time when satellite transmissions were difficult and expensive to do and had to be booked well in advance through the Soviet state television network. Just to get someone on the phone at that late hour was a huge task, not to mention ordering up a satellite on such short notice.
But much to their credit, the folks at Soviet TV quickly grasped the importance of getting Walter Cronkite on the air from Moscow. Studio technicians were called at home and ordered back.
After a harrowing ride to the station on Moscow’s outskirts, we managed to get Walter on the air during the CBS News assassination attempt coverage. America once again had Walter to watch at a time of national trauma.
I had only sporadic contact with Walter after I moved on to Tokyo in 1981, where I remained until moving back to Westport in 1989. I left CBS News in 1991 at a time of downsizing and generous buyout packages. Walter and Dan Rather sent nice notes.
When I ran for first selectman in 2005, I thought a letter of support from Walter might get some notice among all the letters to the editor. So I sent off a note to Walter asking if he would be willing to write a few words for me.
A couple of days later I got a call from his secretary. She said Walter wanted to talk to me and she would put him on, but she wanted me to know he had serious hearing issues and I’d have to speak up and maybe he’d miss a word or two.
He came on and we chatted about old times. “I can’t hear a lick,” he said, and it was clear his phone had some sort of audio booster.
He asked why I was running for first selectman of Westport, where he had some friends and occasionally had visited. I explained my reasons and casually mentioned that I also was a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
“You’re a firefighter?” Walter asked excitedly. I had forgotten that Walter always had a fascination and love for fire stories and for the fire service. He was an old fire horse. “That must be something,” he said.
He agreed to write letters of support to the newspapers and asked me to call him to have lunch next time I was in the city.
The next time I spoke to Walter was shortly after my election. He called to congratulate me, saying, “Well, Mr. Mayor, can you get me any sewer contracts?”
I responded, “Walter, it’s Mr. First Selectman, and I don’t do sewer contracts. But if you want a temporary boat slip at the Compo Beach Marina, I might be able to get you one.”
He chuckled and said goodbye. That was the last time we talked, though he asked a mutual friend some time afterward how I was doing. I will miss him.