The coronavirus pandemic has taken a member of the extended Phoenix New Times and Denver Westword family.
Ward Harkavy was the associate editor of New Times from 1987 to 1992. He held the same position at Westword from 1992 to 1999, schooling young journalists in the time-honored tradition of being a true newspaperman. In 1999, he left Denver for New York, where he become managing editor of the Long Island Voice, then editor of the now-defunct Village Voice. His bio on Twitter reads: “Former hot-metal printer and former newspaperman. Destroyed both industries. Ex-Village Voice smartass. Every day I try to write part of Trump’s obit.”
Harkavy died on May 17, 2020, at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital of COVID-19. He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Jonathan and Nahomi Harkavy, and leaves behind a legion of friends, colleagues, and and journalists to whom he provided invaluable training.
One of those colleagues, Cynthia Cotts, posted a memorial on Facebook (now unavailable): “Unusually kind and empathetic with friends, Ward was a uniquely sharp and funny public intellectual. After retiring from journalism, he was an early adopter of social distancing, spending much of his time at his house in Long Beach, New York. There he devoured the news and engaged with public events on social media on a daily basis … In person, he would mock his misfortunes while showing no trace of self-pity.”
Harkavy was raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and he never lost his down-home sensibility, his sense of humor, or his strong feeling that injustice had to be called out wherever he saw it.
Harkavy was a reporter and editor at the Arizona Republic before leaving for New Times in 1987. While at New Times, Harkavy won first place prizes in the Arizona Press Club’s editorial- and feature-writing competitions.
Freelance journalist Neil deMause, writing an obit for FieldofSchemes.com on Monday titled “Ward Harkavy never met a corrupt blowhard he didn’t like to joyfully skewer,” referred to the same now-unavailable Facebook post about Harkavy, saying the former journo “apparently contracted at a rehab facility where he was recovering from complications of dental surgery.”
“Of all the editors I’ve had over the years, Ward Harkavy might just be my absolute favorite, both as a journalist and as a human being,” deMause wrote. “A world whose absurdities aren’t chronicled by Ward Harkavy doesn’t seem like a world at all; it’s a small comfort to know that the countless people who loved and admired him will do our part to pick up his mantle, but only a small one. Goodbye, Ward — the world has too few genuinely good people in it to lose you so soon.”
Terry Greene Sterling, a former New Times writer who’s now an author and affiliated faculty member at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, worked with Harkavy in the late ’80s and credits him for her second journalist-of-the-year award (out of three) from the Press Club. He was influential not just in her career, she said, but in the careers of “100 different writers.”
Greene Sterling said she had been flipping through the Facebook posts and tributes to Harkavy and was struck how “he impacted the lives of so many writers in such a meaningful way.”
He was a “superstar” at the Republic when she interned there in the mid-’80s, she said.
“Everyone else was wearing ties and khakis. He wore these loose-fitting shirts … untucked,” she said. “He started wearing them 15 years before they were stylish, and he always stood out in the newsroom. He was a very short guy and very athletic-looking. When he got to New Times, his dress deteriorated. He would wear hiking boots and really baggy hiking shorts, the kinds with pockets, and T-shirts.”
Harkavy returned to Phoenix “every spring” to go hiking and visit friends, sometimes staying with Greene Sterling and her husband. He loved the desert and the Superstition Mountains.
Harkavy “was sort of a curmudgeon,” yet “no matter how shitty your piece was, he was never curmudgeonly while in the editing process,” Greene Sterling said. “He was always level-headed and focused on the work. A brilliant line editor. He taught me that if you want get your work published, you have to produce clean copy, really clean copy. He wouldn’t stand for bad reporting. He pushed reporters — if there was a hole, that hole had to be filled. Some editors might just write around it.”
He could be stubborn and opinionated as a person, she said, but as an editor, “was always looking for the truth.”
Harkavy will be missed, but dozens of editors and writers who had the privilege of working with Ward can still hear him, offering cynical observations, advice (often very loudly), creative cusses (“Christ on a cracker” was one of the mildest) and encouragement to be the very best newspaper reporter possible.