By Michelle Tompkins
Queens native Nick Hirshon has a finger on the pulse of the borough and an eye toward its history. Hirshon has built on his successful journalism career to write three books — including one dedicated to Forest Hills — and to help cultivate a new generation of reporters.
His passion for his home borough and his favorite teams shines through his work.
His third book We Want Fish Sticks: The Bizarre and Infamous Rebranding of the New York Islanders was released on Dec. 1 from the University of Nebraska Press and he will give a reading at the Queens Library on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Hirshon is a professor at Columbia University and William Paterson University, but he returns to the borough, the subject of much of his writing.
“Queens is kind of central to everything,” Hirshon said. “So first off you can get to Manhattan, New Jersey or Long Island very easily and all of the other boroughs. But within Queens, it’s very diverse. There are all different sorts of ethnic food and culture, for example. It's a safe, clean place to live. You're also kind of near the hustle and bustle of New York and Queens itself has its own activity, so it's just that perfect combination.”
Hirshon, an only child, grew up in Queens with a passion for journalism and creative writing. He attended Monsignor McClancy High School in East Elmhurst and earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University, a master’s in journalism from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a Ph.D. in mass communication from Ohio University.
In 2010, Hirshon published his first book, Images of America: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and in 2013, he published Images of America: Forest Hills.
Ray Romano, a Forest Hills native and the star of the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” said he wrote the foreword to Images of America: Forest Hills because he respected Hirshon’s representation of the community. Romano stars in the new Netflix show “Get Shorty.”
“Professor Hirshon approached me, knowing I was born and raised in Forest Hills. I was happy to be a part of his book, which took such a detailed look at the life of my home town,” Romano told the Eagle. “My Mom still lives there and when I go visit it’s easy for me to see what the town has evolved and progressed into, but Professor Hirshon‘s book gave me the opportunity to see the history and the soul of Forest Hills.”
Before writing his books, Hirshon worked at the New York Daily News and freelanced for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Hockey News. He wrote more than 1000 stories, including powerful articles about Queens. Hirshon wrote about the efforts to preserve the former home of Jackie Robinson and the Ridgewood Theatre, the longest continuously operated movie theater in the United States.
In 2010, he received an award from the Historic Districts Council for his work on the forgotten sites of Queens.
He also wrote a memorable piece on the locations associated with the TV series “Seinfeld” and accompanied actor Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza, to the Costanza household — much to the delight of the home’s actual occupants.
Barbara Stuchinski, president emeritus of the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association said she has fond memories of Hirshon and praise for his journalistic integrity.
“My first encounter was when he worked at a local paper which residents looked to for info,” Stuchinski said. “Nick was a true journalist— he listened, he researched and he wrote factual reports. Also when he quoted you, it was not altered to fit into what would have sounded better for the article.”
In addition to writing, Hirshon said he is passionate about educating a new generation of journalists. He is the faculty adviser for the William Paterson chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“There's so much enthusiasm from young journalists there,” he said. “They haven't had time yet to become cynical the way a lot of older journalists may become. They have an outlook on what they think should be covered.”
In turn, his students say they respect his commitment to them. Many have become successful journalists themselves.
David Russell, an associate editor for The Queens Chronicle was one of Hirshon’s students when Hirshon taught at St. John’s, but their connection went back even further.
“Small world-he had been my camp counselor 10 years earlier,” Russell said. “He was very personable and had rapport with the students as opposed to just lecturing the class. Plus he had the experience as a published author and writer with the Daily News.”
Hirshon’s new book We Want Fish Sticks: The Bizarre and Infamous Rebranding of the New York Islanders tells the story of the NHL team that now calls Brooklyn home.
The Islanders dominated the early 1980s, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups, but by the 1990s, the team had fallen on hard time — from their poor performances on the ice to their odd sartorial choices.
Their logo — an angry fisherman holding a hockey stick — was panned for resembling the Gorton’s fish sticks mascot. A managerial change bombed with fans and even led to someone going to prison for fraud.
“It's the story of the worst sports branding failure of all time when the National Hockey League team decided they were going to abandon their original logo that was beloved by the fans and replace it with this logo that look like the Gorton's fisherman from the frozen seafood boxes. And so fans protested,” Hirshon said.
The topic was a natural fit for Hirshon, a lifelong Mets and Islanders fan. He said he poured over issues old news coverage, watched fan reactions and interviewed players and broadcasting executives.
As Hirshon plans his next projects, he said he will continue to focus on Queens and visit his favorite spots in the borough.
Hirshon lists Eddie’s Sweet Shop on Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills Gardens, the Cinemart movie theater, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Citi Field, the Queens Museum of Art and the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria as a few of his favorite locations.
“All my friends [and] everything that I've known is pretty much tied up in Queens,” Hirshon said. “So it was a logical place.”
Nick Hirshon will visit the Queens Library Glen Oaks Branch, located at 256-04 Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. He will read and sign his new book We Want Fish Sticks: The Bizarre and Infamous Rebranding of the New York Islanders.