Jeffrey H. Brodsky, Journalist And Historian, Dies at 49
Jeffrey H. Brodsky, an accomplished journalist and oral historian, passed away July 26, 2023 at age 49 at home in Manchester, New Hampshire after battling an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease for the past decade. He will be remembered by family and friends for his dynamic personality, courageous spirit, and deep loyalty to his loved ones. Those who met him, would never forget him.
Born and raised in Manchester, NH, Jeff showed his journalistic talent at an early age. As editor-in chief of his high school newspaper, he led the Manchester Central newspaper staff in transforming the student publication into a broadsheet format based on The Boston Globe, also adding color photography, a revamped design and updated typography. Jeff then secured high profile interviews with all nine candidates for the 1992 Presidential election, including the eventual winner Bill Clinton. His efforts revitalized a stagnant circulation and increased readership to make it the highest-circulated school newspaper in the country at that time.
Jeff was selected as a national columnist for Youth News Service and was chosen by USA Today to serve on their Advisory Board of Young Adults, where he wrote regular commentary and op-ed pieces. Later, he was one of 20 students selected nationwide for the newspaper’s first teen panel. After running a controversial editorial regarding the transparency of student elections, his high school newspaper was shut down. Jeff later rallied the state-wide press to get the paper reopened and testified before the New Hampshire House Judiciary committee in Concord about student press rights.
When he was a junior in high school, Jeff was selected as an intern for the Chicago Sun Times to cover the White House beat and was the first high school student the Sun Times ever hired for that role. He repeated this feat as the first high school intern selected by CNN for their Investigative Reporting Unit in DC, where he researched stories, interviewed sources, and assisted on-air correspondents with in-depth analysis. In addition, he held internships at USA Today in their Special Projects Department and at the States News Service covering congressional delegations for US newspapers.
Jeff received his bachelor's degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. Following graduation, he was selected as one of 12 students worldwide for Columbia University’s inaugural Oral History Masters Degree program. For his signature oral history project, he interviewed politicians about their first campaign. Jeff conducted long-form interviews with over 84 governors, senators and heads of state including Governor Mike Dukakis, Senator George McGovern, civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, among many others. The finished historical retrospective was published in a multipage feature in the Washington Post and on NPR.
After graduating from Columbia with a Master’s in Oral History, Jeff continued to interview leaders local and abroad, including Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and future President Donald Trump.
Some of Jeff’s other high profile interviews were Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Bob Dole, Governor Eliot Spitzer, Governor Martin O’Malley, Mayor David Dinkins, Mayor Cory Booker, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Jeff was one of the last people to interview US Senator and 1972 Presidential Nominee George McGovern before McGovern’s death in 2012.
During his career, he conducted interviews with dozens of CEOs including Richard Branson, Ted Turner, and Warren Buffett.
Before his illness, Jeff was also a frequent interviewer on the Red Carpet, conducting interviews with celebrities including Oprah, Madonna, Martha Stewart, Howard Stern, Jon Stewart, OJ Simpson, and Jerry Seinfeld.
In 2015, Columbia University established the Jeffrey H. Brodsky Oral History Award to honor future generations of journalists and historians in conducting innovative and outstanding research. The criteria for receiving the award is oral history work that makes an important contribution to knowledge and exemplifies rigor, creativity, and ethical integrity. In 2021, Columbia also established a permanent archive to catalog Jeff contributions to the fields of journalism and political interviewing.
Jeff’s journalism legacy also lives on in New Hampshire, where he launched The Brodsky Prize in 2018, a college scholarship for high school journalists across the state. Jeff’s vision was to encourage out-of-the-box efforts and innovation by a new generation of student journalists.
Jeff was known for his enterprising and creative ability to secure interviews with highly notable people. Even when not affiliated with a major news outlet, he would go to creative extremes to capture interviews with major politicians and world leaders.
A humorous highlight from Jeff’s career was his tenacious effort to obtain an interview with then sitting President Bill Clinton. Jeff attended a service at Clinton’s church and, shortly after communion (which Jeff also took despite being Jewish), asked Clinton for an interview. Initially, the President was shocked by the location of the interview request, but after the day’s sermon about forgiveness, Clinton reconsidered. As Clinton was leaving the Church, he signaled for Jeff to approach the Presidential limo, and told him to arrange an interview with his press secretary.
Jeff made a deep impression on all who knew him. He was known for his casual yet highly provocative interview style, asking questions that brought out the “person behind the persona.” Roger Ebert said Jeff “asked the most intelligent questions,” asking “questions no one has ever asked him before”. Paula Abdul once remarked Jeff “was the best interview” she ever had. Jeff conducted all interviews based upon his own research; no one ever fed him questions.
Notable news personalities interviewed by Jeff include Katie Couric, Chris Matthews, Peter Kann , Sam Donaldson, Bob Schieffer, Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopoulos, Bob Schieffer, Brian Williams, Bob Costas, and Anderson Cooper, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw.
Jeff ‘s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, USA Today, Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal. He has also made appearances on CNN, C-Span, and National Public Radio's (NPR) Talk of the Nation to discuss his experience interviewing politicians.
In addition to his career as a journalist, Jeff was also the founder and director of National Scholastic Surveys, a polling and research firm dedicated to gathering the opinions of high school and college students. He addressed the National Federation of Press Women and the Nackey Loeb School of Journalism in New Hampshire. He was profiled in two books: the Freedom Forum’s 1995 book about high school journalism, “Death by Cheeseburger” and “America By the Numbers” by Les Krantz.
Jeff is survived by his father, Howard Brodsky of Manchester, NH, his mother Kathy Brodsky of Manchester, NH, his younger brother Greg Brodsky of Boston, MA, and his nephews Oscar and Benjy Brodsky. His father, Howard Brodsky, is the co-founder of CCA Global Partners based in Manchester, NH. His mother Kathy, with whom Jeff shared his birthday, is a clinical social worker, poet, and well-known author of multiple children’s books. His entire family will miss his courageous spirit.