By Warren Strugatch
In 2008, John L. Kominicki took the stage at a Melville event center and accepted the top honor a Long Island journalist can receive: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of Long Island. Ten years earlier, Kominicki — many of us called him just that — had arrived as the new publisher and editor of the venerable Long Island Business News. Just one decade later he’d be gone, felled by cancer.
That night was prime Kominicki — adlibbing uproariously, tossing hair back from eyes, jousting with power brokers and musing about the future of journalism. Gently chiding his audience not to confuse technological advances with journalistic achievement, he evoked the spirit of Edward R. Murrow.
The latest computers, devices and means of electronic transmission — even the emergence of the internet — did not, he said, necessarily improve journalism.
“Readers, viewers and listeners expect — demand, actually — stuff that’s fast, stuff that’s splashy and stuff that’s free,” Kominicki said. “It will never end. The future is about change, however it plays out.”
“Our craft doesn’t change,” he asserted. “It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain. It’s always been about that.”
He paused, then: “Ultimately the change is no change at all.”
Flashing the slightest of smiles, he added, “Good luck with the change.”
The performance was vintage Kominicki — insightful and irreverent, articulate yet casual, a blend of media studies and rock ’n’ roll attitude.
“It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain.”
— John Kominicki
Now revered as a local journalistic icon, Kominicki had a background that was anything but conventional. Growing up in Keane, New Hampshire, he registered at Boston College as a theater major, and then dropped out and joined the U.S. Army. He served active duty not in a battlefield but as an editor of military community publications — a distinction he noted with his usual irony-laced good humor. He married a military newsroom co-worker, Marie. Next came a Hemingway-like stint as a foreign correspondent for Stars and Stripes military newspaper, where he covered among other events the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 he, Marie and their young daughter Anya repatriated.
Kominicki was hired as editor of a Fort Worth, Texas weekly. In 1995 Dolan Media Company hired him to helm their Oklahoma City business daily. Three years later he was transferred to Long Island. He bought a home in Stony Brook and became a Long Islander.
My introduction to Kominicki came in the spring of 1998 when he asked me to write a weekly front-page column for LIBN, as the paper is known.
“I’m going to turn this newspaper around,” he said. “Can you help me?”
It wasn’t an easy task. LIBN had fended off change for decades, deferring to advertisers and long-term subscribers and letting coverage languish. Kominicki immediately ended the favoritism to advertisers. He insisted reporters cover events and do interviews where possible in person. He demanded smart, lively writing. He edited out bias but encouraged writers to develop their own points of view.
Kominicki stayed on at LIBN until September 2013. He became a media entrepreneur, founding a website and business platform dedicated to fostering economic development. He did some occasional writing and fixed up the French farmhouse he and Marie had bought during his Stars and Stripes days as their retirement home. He was inducted into the Press Club of Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.
We stayed in touch, sharing occasional early-morning cups of coffee at Starbucks. My wife Cindy and I cherish the memory of hosting them last summer over our backyard grill.
In April the Queens Courier newspaper chain bought the Long Island Press online publication. The publisher had heard about Kominicki and hired him to restore the Press as a monthly — almost exactly 20 years after his LIBN turnaround began. I was delighted and proud when Kominicki recruited me again to write a pair of columns. From his farmhouse in France, he edited my first four pieces then fell ill.
Kominicki showed a generation of Long Island journalists what it takes to practice genuine journalism. He demonstrated how to ask tough but fair questions, how to deflect editorial intrusions and how to deter editorial bias. Perhaps most importantly, he preserved the role of humor and decency in local journalism.
Our prayers go to Marie and Anya. John, you will long be remembered and are already sorely missed. If heaven has a newspaper, you’re editing it. May you rest in peace.
Kominicki died Dec. 5 at the age of 62. A memorial is being planned for after the holidays.
Warren Strugatch is a journalist and consultant. He writes for The New York Times and Long Island Press, and is a partner with Inflection Point Associates in Stony Brook.