Kai Falkenberg’s Israeli-born mother was, in part, an inspiration for the media orientation of her career. In the 1967 Six-Day War, her mother’s army service involved contact with foreign journalists and after the War, she guided the CBS crew to see the altered landscape. She enjoyed these efforts and encouraged her daughter, “Work with journalists.”
Falkenberg, an attorney and law professor, serves as general counsel for G/O Media, a publishing company with a portfolio of digital brands. Her career has been impressive and varied, very much connected to her interest in media law and journalism, with positions at major law forms, city government and a national magazine, among others. A member of the Board of Directors of The Jewish Week for 10 years, she now serves as treasurer.
“I find it important to be a champion for journalists and for finding the truth, and for the importance of sifting through misinformation to get at the truth,” she says in an interview.
Stuart Himmelfarb, president of The Jewish Week, says, “Kai’s contributions to the board of The Jewish Week are many and varied —and deeply appreciated. She is the quintessential can-do person, always ready, eager and supremely able to help. She has led the way on financial and legal issues, and has provided guidance in many other areas.
“The Jewish Week team is strengthened by her presence and our confidence in meeting any challenge is increased by her participation,” he says.
In addition to her work on the board, Falkenberg is called upon to vet stories as the paper’s libel lawyer. Publisher Rich Waloff says, “With her nuanced understanding of the legal issues concerning news coverage, business matters and media, along with her knowledge of the Jewish community, Kai’s opinions are well thought out and valuable.”
Falkenberg says, “I’m mindful of the consequences and don’t take these decisions lightly.”
After law school at Columbia University, where she was a James Kent scholar, Falkenberg clerked for Judge A. Raymond Randolph on the United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and then joined a corporate law firm in New York City. But she was always drawn to media and reached out to firms that represented newspapers and magazines. She worked at Davis, Wright Tremaine LLP, specializing in media law, and then moved to Forbes, where, as editorial counsel, she was the newsroom lawyer and also reported on legal issues. At that time, she began teaching at Columbia Law School, where she offered courses in media law and social media. At Forbes, she had realized that while Twitter was growing in popularity, no one was looking into the legal implications of privacy issues related to social media accounts for journalists. In her courses, she delved into those and other issues.
“I really enjoy being a practicing lawyer and dealing with problems. But that often doesn’t give you the opportunity to think more deeply about issues and questions. Teaching provides the space to do that,” she says.
From 2016 to 2018, she served as first deputy commissioner/acting commissioner for New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. There, she did groundbreaking work including establishing the Made in NY Broadcast Center at CUNY Journalism School, negotiating the Grammy Awards’ return to the city after 15 years and creating landmark programs like Broadway in the Boroughs. For One Book New York, she came up with the idea of having New Yorkers choose the book to be read across the community and set up ancillary programs in prisons and senior residences. She also initiated The Freelancers Hub, to provide training, workshops and support for a growing community of people working independently in media and the arts.
“It was a very positive experience,” she recalls. “I’m not so much into the political end, I like to seat myself in policy. It’s always beneficial for anyone to see how the city operates.”
She then returned to practicing law at a firm, before taking up her present position earlier this fall at G/O Media. Along with The Jewish Week Board of Directors, she also serves on the boards of the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY, IFP Made in NY Media Center, City of NY Open Data Advisory Council and the Independent Filmmaker Project, a particular interest.
“I like to get out of my comfort zone; I like to take on new challenges,” Falkenberg says about her diverse career. “I always encourage people to try new things.”
Falkenberg recalls being very shy while growing up in Westchester; even in law school she says she rarely spoke up in class. While it’s hard to grasp this as she’s so poised and articulate, she says that teaching was one of those things that was way out of her comfort zone, that she forced herself to do. And that led to her job with the City, which involved a lot of public speaking, which she grew to enjoy.
She met her husband, Christopher Falkenberg, when they were both at Columbia Law School; their first encounter was when they were placed on adjoining cots during a blood drive. Before going to law school, he was a special agent of the United States Secret Service for five years. She jokes that he was the only Jewish kid in Scarsdale to join the Secret Service. After serving as a litigator in a large law firm for several years, he founded and now runs a security consulting business.
Active members of Congregations B’nai Jeshurun and Rodeph Sholom on the Upper West Side, they are the parents of Talia, 16, and Benny 13, who recently celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah. They are a family that travels every summer and skis together most winter weekends. Kai grew up in a ski family as a ski racer. A few winters ago, she and her brother Ilan ran a fundraiser in Windham, N.Y., for an Israeli Olympic athlete known as “the Frozen Chosen.” She also enjoys playing squash, DIY projects, needlepoint (she made the atarahs, or crowns, for their taleisim) and cartooning — and it’s clear that she has a good eye for design. And she writes, both legal articles and more popular pieces, including a recent Washington Post piece about parenting.
When asked about how she balances so much, she admits that she doesn’t cook from scratch, and that her husband does a lot of the cooking. She has learned that “you can do everything but not at the same time.”
“I try to make time for the things that are important,” she says.
A sense of community is a deeply felt value for Falkenberg and her family. She’s part of a “village of six families” at B’nai Jeshurun who sit together during services, celebrate holidays together, “support one another in life’s challenges and the challenges of raising children” and they are also involved in the larger BJ community.
Falkenberg brings all of her skills, creativity, experience and passion for journalism and community to her involvement at The Jewish Week.
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