Editor’s Letter: In Memory of Samantha Woll and Guy Stern

Hour Detroit’s editor-in-chief gives a behind-the-scenes look at how two stories in memory of two prominent Jewish leaders Metro Detroit lost last year came together.

How to pitch a story to Hour Detroit is one of the exercises we work on with our editorial interns.

Most interns have had experience writing news stories for their college newspaper or website, and the concept of a monthly city lifestyle magazine is quite foreign to them. It’s rare that we break the news, we tell them. What we can do, though, is go deeper into the story, bringing out aspects of the subject that can only be gleaned over time through research and interviews. And sometimes, we tell them, you need to wait for the right moment to tell the story.

The murder of Samantha Woll in her home in Lafayette Park on Oct. 21, 2023, was one of the most shocking and tragic events in recent Detroit history. As Detroiters and humans, we mourned; as journalists, we needed to think about how we would handle the event. Since we are not a news outlet with a team of reporters on standby to gather new information, we published a story on our website citing other media outlets and with quotes we got from a friend. We updated the story as needed, but I knew we needed to do something more, in print.

Kate Walsh // Photograph by Brad Ziegler
Kate Walsh // Photograph by Brad Ziegler

A month or so passed, and as I started planning our annual calendar for 2024, I received an email from Wayne State University with the news of the death of former professor and administrator Guy Stern at the age of 101. He was a World War II hero of Jewish faith who was the only member of his family to escape from Germany.

Realizing that May was Jewish American Heritage Month, I decided a story in this issue recognizing the lives of both Stern and Woll would be a good fit. It would also give us months to work on the stories and give the families more time to grieve before we asked them for interviews.

“I knew we wanted to paint a fuller picture of who Sam was,” says writer Dana White. “And I needed her family’s help to do that.” Instead of contacting the Woll family directly, Dana asked for an interview through their rabbi. It was an approach Margo Woll, Sam’s mother, appreciated. “If you would have called yourself, I would have ignored you,” she told Dana when they spoke in early March, adding it was the first interview she had given. “I’m able to talk now. We were approached by many, many different newspapers, organizations, etc. But it was too difficult.”

Dana’s articles do exactly what we think we do best: tell the stories of metro Detroiters in a positive light and in a way that allows us to learn who they were as people and what they’ve done for our community.

Samantha Woll’s profile, especially, is an example we will now include in our interns’ syllabus so we can help them develop into caring and compassionate journalists, who will cover the stories of extraordinary people like Sam Woll and Guy Stern with sensitivity and respect.

This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on May 6.