Mike Levine was the editor of Heights-Inwood, a weekly newspaper in Manhattan, before he began working as a reporter at the Times Herald-Record in 1980.
In 1983, he convinced the editor to give him a try as a columnist. Levine felt he had found his calling and readers thought so too.
His stories celebrating the spirit of everyday people earned state and national awards, with some featured in Reader’s Digest.
Levine served as the newspaper’s writing coach and city editor before becoming executive editor in 1999.
As most of Levine's brilliance occurred inside his head, he was known for his inability to manage himself in the physical world.
With the patient help of his assistant, Taryn Clark, Levine made a passable imitation of being semi-organized.
But by the end of the day – despite her best efforts – his tie was askew, his shoes were untied, his shirttail was hanging out, and his reading glasses (one of five he bought from the drugstore) were horribly smudged.
His personal appearances notwithstanding, Levine was a precise and relentless practitioner when it came to language.
In his writing and his editing, choosing the right word was his obsession and finding the perfect arc of the story was his aim.
He left the Times Herald-Record in 2001 to join ESPN the Magazine in New York City as a senior editor.
His work there contributed to the magazine’s 2002 award for General Excellence by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
He returned to the Times Herald-Record as executive editor in 2002, and led the newspaper to numerous awards.
It was his leadership that caused CNN’s Aaron Brown to hold it up one morning and declare it “this feisty little newspaper in upstate New York!”
Levine gave all he had to the Times Herald-Record, and died suddenly at age 54, in 2007, when his heart gave out.
Upon Levine’s death, Pete Hamill, the author, columnist and former editor of the New York Post, said: “Mike was one of the best newspapermen I ever knew, full of passion for our poor imperfect craft.”
For more tributes about Levine, click here.
In a write-up in Columbia Journalism Review, Levine was among those interviewed about what it meant to be in newspapers at a time when readers were turning increasingly to the web.
The former head of Investigative Reporters and Editors recalled Levine's passion for watchdog and investigative reporting in this piece in the IRE Journal: