Joseph Polakoff (1908-1996) was born in Russia on October 20, 1908. Polakoff moved to Scranton Pennsylvania. In 1925 as a high school senior, he began work as a messenger and copy-boy at the Scranton Republican, later the Scranton Tribune. Polakoff attended St. Thomas College , now the University of Scranton, and graduated in 1932. While in college Polakoff wrote sports articles for the college newspaper, The Aquinas. At the Tribune he started as a reporter, became sports editor for four years and contributed a weekly column called Polly’s Chatter. Finally, he served as city editor and taught economics at St. Thomas. Polakoff noted that he was "the first Jew to hold those jobs" at the Tribune.
During 1939 and 1940, Polakoff worked briefly at a number of New York papers serving as an "observer." In 1942, he was invited to join the staff of the newly formed Office of War Information. Polakoff was sent to London and remained there until 1949, writing the Potomac Cable for the State Department. He met his wife Dorothy in London in 1948. He was transferred to Washington to work for the State Department’s Information Service late in 1949. In 1953, Polakoff was transferred to the newly created United States Information Agency and in 1954 he was transferred to Yugoslavia for a more than a year before returning to Washington.
In 1960 President Eisenhower appointed Polakoff as information specialist for a State Department South and Central American assistance program. Polakoff was based in Lima Peru until President Kennedy terminated the program in 1961. Polakoff transferred to the United Nations where he served as policy guidance officer. The Kennedy administration selected Polakoff in 1962 to serve as special information officer for the Central American Common Market. Polakoff was based in Guatemala for seven years and wrote a report on the Common Market which was published as a Congressional document.
In 1969 he returned to Washington to work with USIA but retired from the State Department in 1970 after 28 years of service. After a four month break, Polakoff started a new career as Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He accompanied President Nixon to the USSR, Poland and Iran. In 1979 Polakoff accompanied President Carter to Cairo and Jerusalem to witness the signing of the Begin-Sadat peace accord. Polakoff traveled widely and wrote regularly for the JTA.
In 1981 he retired from the JTA and became the Washington bureau chief for the Intermountain Jewish News. Polakoff continued to write nearly until his death on April 12, 1996 at age 87.
Polakoff was known for his tough and persistent style of questioning. Jim Deaken wrote in Straight Stuff—The Reporters, the White House and the Truth, "No press secretary has ever matched Polakoff’s knowledge of the Middle East." In 1984 the American Jewish Press Association established an annual Joseph Polakoff Award for integrity and outstanding journalism.
Polakoff died in 1996 from lung cancer.