Remembering Kominicki

He was all talent and heart, with a brilliant mind that excelled at finding something exceptional in the mundane. John Kominicki.

Newspapering isn’t something he did for a living. It was actually part of his DNA. He did it better than anyone, not simply because he was equipped with a stellar skill set, but because he questioned everything. Most of us forget that sense of wonder we had as children, yet John Kominicki never outgrew it.

More than anyone else I’ve ever met in media, John had a supreme understanding of the power of words, and when he deployed his seemingly infinite arsenal of nouns, adjectives and the like, he did so with laser accuracy and great responsibility. As editor and publisher of Long Island Business News, he was mindful of how easy it was for a newspaper to assign a label to the subject of a story, and that was something he tried hard to avoid because people are complicated subjects.

Or maybe it was simply because he, himself, seemed indefinable at times. He loved his family greatly and was passionate about his craft, yet he spent enormous amounts of time trapped inside his head, where ideas played out like movies.

While his mind was a fertile playground, it must have been a lonely place: The man was the most social creature on the planet.

That was part of his brilliance. He knew newspapering transcended storytelling. To his mind, it created a tapestry that wove our community together, and every story ultimately touched every other.

You always knew when he had an idea. He’d bound into the room like an overly energetic puppy grappling with the realities of outsized paws. He considered it his duty as an American to rush to market with a project — details be damned, we’ll figure that out later.

When something did go awry, which was pretty often, an interoffice phone call would take place. “Kominicki here,” it would begin. “Can you meet me down the street in 15?”

The bar at the Holiday Inn in Ronkonkoma was John’s second office; the first being where he officially hung his hat, on Smithtown Avenue across from the airport. He couldn’t smoke in his first office; hence, the need for a second. For him, the second came with the added bonus of karaoke night. House of the Rising Sun was a favorite.

When someone truly needed Kominicki’s ear, they’d turn up down the street. It was there where new features for the paper were created and business deals were solidified. Ideas were often drafted on a napkin. Pen in one hand, Courvoisier in the other.

There were days and weeks when an endless assortment of notables from business and government would stream into the bar, seeking his help. It was exhausting, but John thrived on it.

He took great pleasure in not knowing who would walk into the room next. That’s one of the reasons he loved going to events around the Island. He loved an audience, and they loved him back, even when he insisted on telling his Bruno Hauptmann joke, which no one but him ever understood. God, he so loved history, humanity, and humor.

He hated words like ‘icon’ and ‘guru.’ Conversely, he was a great fan of ‘gadgets,’ ‘geegaws’ and ‘stuff.’

He loved technology and real estate mostly, I suspect, because those two industries laid claim to the best toys.

He had a need to excel. He was competitive, sure, but he also took great pride in what he put his name on. When advertising revenues were taking a hit, it was at the second office where he decided it was time to create a series of events. Those went well, and most importantly, John’s paper remained at the top of the Dolan Media food chain. That’s what was really important. You see, as long as he remained at the top, he knew he could duck out of what he hated most: direction from a corporate master. It wasn’t unusual for corporate to send in a colonel once a year or so, simply to check on things, after months of phone calls went unreturned.

Whenever Jim Dolan (no relation to the Long Island Dolan family) dispatched staff from the mothership to darken the doorstep at 2150, they appeared a bit perplexed throughout the visit. Partly surprised the place hadn’t burned down under Kominicki’s watch, no doubt, and partly disappointed, as if they’d lost money in a Minneapolis-based office pool devoted to when, not if, it was going to happen.

With great ease, John would apologize for being out of touch. When the subject of the head office’s need to hear from him on a regular basis was ever-so-gingerly broached, John — just as easily — made it clear such a change in behavior was beyond his control. He was upfront about that when he was hired, and he saw no need to revisit the matter. Apologize? Sure. Seek permission? Never.

In his defense, on the rare occasion he mistakenly answered a call from corporate, it led to great trauma. No interoffice telephonics occurred in these instances. He’d simply appear, larger than life, hovering above your computer screen. His synopsis of the situation would be characteristically clear and concise: “I’ve never been in so much trouble.”

Those unfamiliar with the Kominicki user manual would question, “What happened?”

Those of us who lived it chapter and verse would refrain from asking, “What now?”

Copious amounts of time were devoted to finding loopholes in corporate policies. More often than not, he got what he wanted, even if it meant Dolan himself had to step in. When things got down to the wire, Kominicki would impress, in an Oscar-caliber performance, how he was too busy making the company money to read memos about things that somehow didn’t apply to him.

He was an outsider to Long Island, having lived and worked abroad as well as across the states, but he learned and loved this place, and its cast of characters. He appreciated people for who they were and passed no judgments. Shortcomings and personality disorders simply created intriguing plot twists in the storyline unfolding before him. He had an outsider’s perspective to what was happening here, and that enabled him to see things differently.

He brought pride to living here, illustrated that business was one of the best sports ever created, and saw daily life as an art form. He tackled problems with such a spirited personality and acerbic wit that he inadvertently gave comfort to those around him. Having him in the room created the effect that everything was going to be alright.

To him, newspapering was about being the soul and conscience of a community, and he was a newspaperman, through and through.

-Jaci Clement

The Fair Media Council extends our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of John Kominicki, his colleagues at Long Island Business News, Innovate Long Island, which he founded, and the Long Island Press, where he recently became the publisher.

 

 

 

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