Class of 1939
Kalman Seigel was at The New York Times for 41 years. For 13 of them, he spent much of his time reading the newspaper’s mail.
As head of the Letters to the Editor department, it was his responsibility to decide what letters would actually be published. From 1967 to 1980, when he retired, Seigel began each workday by going through some 150 letters, which he would pare to seven or eight for the next day’s edition. (This, of course, was prior to e-mail, which increased the amount of mail exponentially.)
In “Talking Back to The New York Times,” a 1972 book he edited, Seigel said he had to turn down some 50,000 would-be contributors to the Letters page each year, while saying yes to about 3,000. His authority was such that he could — and sometimes did — reject letters from Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then The Times’s publisher.
Seigel joined The Times in 1939, shortly after his graduation from City College. Before becoming steward of the letters page, he was an assistant metropolitan editor, suburban editor and a reporter.
In 1951, he won a George Polk Award for Education Reporting for a series of articles about the dangers posed by McCarthyism to freedom of thought on college campuses. He also taught journalism at City College, Brooklyn College and Long Island University, and was the co-author of “This Is a Newspaper” (1965), a book for young readers, and “Israel: Crossroads of Conflict” (1968).
When he retired, according to his obituary in The Times, he wrote a brief comment in the newspaper paying tribute to the readers who sent letters to the publication:
“As steward dof the section that is the public’s most direct route to the columns of this paper, I have tried to enhance openness, welcoming a great diversity of opinion. As I leave, I am grateful to all letters writers for their faith in the liberty that Euripides tells us comes only when ‘freeborn men speak free.’”
Seigel died on May 13, 1998 at the age of 80.