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Remembering John Stefans: Former News-Review editor’s heart was in community journalism

After a successful career in corporate communications, John Stefans followed his heart into journalism and in 2000 became the editor of the Traveler Watchman newspaper in Southold.

In 2006, he was hired as an editor at the Riverhead News-Review. He would later work at The Suffolk Times.

“John was a real journalist at heart,” said his wife, Karin Stefans. “He loved newspapers. He loved finding stories, gathering them up, writing them, laying out pages and interviewing people. His grammar was impeccable.

“He had a great sense of humor,” she added. “He stood tall. He was a real gentleman.” 

Mr. Stefans, who had a successful and versatile career as a corporate speech writer and journalist, died Sunday Nov. 26, 2023. He was 80 years old and lived in Southold.

Those who knew and worked with Mr. Stefans praised his professionalism and say he was a joy to sit near in a newsroom. They say he was one of those rare people in a newsroom who could do anything — from reporting, to writing, to the machinations of getting the paper the printer on time. He was a master at all of it.

“I had the pleasure of working with John Stefans for a number of years when I was editor of the News-Review and then executive editor of Times Review Newspapers,” said Denise Civiletti, editor of RiverheadLocal. 

“John was a consummate professional, a thorough reporter who wrote crisp, clear prose about any subject,” she said in an email. “He was extremely versatile because he was extremely smart and naturally inquisitive. 

“Whether writing news stories about the development boom then underway on Route 58 in Riverhead, trends in the real estate market or local politics, John was always careful, fair and painstakingly accurate,” Ms. Civiletti said. “When he tackled a feature story — and John always had great ideas for topics — he knew how to bring the story to life for his readers,” 

Ms. Civiletti remembered a piece Mr. Stefans wrote in January 2003 about how local farmers acquired the chicks they raised to produce eggs. “He learned that hundreds of just-hatched baby chicks were shipped in cartons by Priority Mail from Pennsylvania hatcheries to local farms,” she said. “John interviewed the postmaster in charge of the post office annex in Riverhead, now long closed, which was then a central receiving point for all the post offices on the East End. ‘Out here, we probably see the most traffic in live chicks in all New York,’ the postmaster told him. ‘As soon as something like this hits our loading dock, we put it aside in a warm place and call the local name on the label to come pick it up …’ 

“John knew how to write a story that captured the reader’s attention from the first sentence to the last word,” she added. “Though his professional background was diverse, he understood what community journalism is all about, and he practiced the craft so well.”

Mr. Stefans was born in Teaneck, N.J. He attended Fordham University and, from 1965 to 1968, served in the U.S. Army in South Korea. He was an editor of an Army newspaper, The Bullseye.

John Henry, a former colleague , met Mr. Stefans when they both worked at The Suffolk Times. “I was editing copy, and he was sitting next to me doing reporting,” he said. “I loved his sense of humor. He had that husky laugh that I found endearing. 

“He had a world of experience,” Mr. Henry added. “He used to write speeches for David Rockefeller when he worked at the Chase Manhattan Bank. John was senior VP for corporate communications for Chase.

“John never lost his feelings and sympathy for the underdog,” Mr. Henry said. “His moral compass was fixed. And he read constantly: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The Suffolk Times, the New Yorker. He was the most discerning consumer of news.”

As both Karin Stefans and Mr. Henry said, Mr. Stefans always had a yearning to work in journalism. His highly successful career in corporate communications was but a detour on the road to a desk in a newsroom.

“He was a journalist at heart,” said Ms. Stefans. “He was a wonderful man. We miss him so much.”