Bernard “Buddy” Stein’s life changed forever in the winter of 1949. That was when his father, David, installed a drawing board and a typewriter table in their Greystone Avenue home.
“It was where he began fashioning The Riverdale Press,” Stein said during a virtual Kingsbridge Historical Society presentation. “I was 8 when the first issue came out on April 20, 1950. It included my first byline about a meeting of my Cub Scout pack.”
The presentation was the kick-off of sorts for the rejuvenated historical society that now calls the former Edgehill Church home. Buddy’s talk was sponsored by a grant from Councilman Eric Dinowitz and the city’s department of youth and community development.
While the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former publisher and editor of this newspaper has certainly had a storied career battling political corruption, over development and standing up for environmental causes, journalism was never his first career choice. He had headed off to the University of California at Berkeley for a graduate degree and a professorship.
But as his father was weakened by a series of heart attacks in 1978, Richard took Buddy aside and said he would take over as general manager of the newspaper. But there was one catch: Buddy had to join him before Richard would commit to the role.
“But all I could think of was, ‘I’m a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing,” Buddy said. “Three months later, the neighborhood was struck by a crisis. A tidal wave of co-op conversion plans swamped Riverdale where a majority of tenants were in rent-controlled apartments.”
As the co-op crisis grew and developers were seeking to buy the buildings residents lived in, Buddy did the only thing he could think of. He assigned himself the co-op beat. He wound up writing more than 80 articles, most of the short variety.
“In writing those articles, I finally determined what my job was because they finally taught me what community journalism was all about,” he said. “What those stories did was tell people they weren’t alone.
“Letting readers know what they should know is what community journalism is, I realized.”
All in all, Buddy also realized just how important the staff writers are to producing a quality community weekly that interacts with and represents the public that reads it. From the investigations his team did on Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, the Bronx Democratic machine and much more, he became an award-winning editorial writer.
The story of how he won the 1998 Pulitzer for editorial writing is indicative of that teamwork.
“I decided to enter the expose on fraud in the New York City school system for the Pulitzer in 1987,” he said. “The whole staff pitched in by doing double duty so Jamie and I could write it. I wanted the whole staff how proud I was of them.”
He explained how he was encouraged by the staff to enter his editorials on the ongoing issue as well.
“In 1987, much to my surprise and delight, I was one of three finalists for the 1987 prize,” he said. “The next year, I sent in 10 more editorials. I was a finalist again. I was no longer convinced the Pulitzer was out of reach.”
And in April 1998, a call came from a Columbia professor that the third time might be a charm. “The professor said to save enough space on the front page,” Buddy said.
Interspersed between the muckraking and winning the Pulitzer, the newspaper made other news in 1989. That was when someone threw two Molotov cocktails into the Press offices early in the morning. The damage was devastating but the community outreach was unbelievable.
Longtime Riverdale residents have a lot to thank the Steins for as advocates for this part of the northwest Bronx. It’s said without them, there wouldn’t be a Seton Park, the Little Red Lighthouse, rent-controlled co-ops and a journal of Riverdale’s history since at least 1950.