The End of the Jewish Newspaper?

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A story came across my desk today discussing the fact that Jewish newspapers are fighting to stay alive in a world dominated by the internet. At the recent American Jewish Press Association conference, journalists asked themselves:

How vulnerable are Jewish newspapers to the economic and social forces buffeting daily papers? Does having a reliable niche audience shield the Jewish press from ruin? Might Jewish papers fade in this age of Google and blogs? (MORE)

I thought to myself, what year did this conference take place? 2000? For nearly a decade now, the journalism world has been redefining itself in the context of the web. Those that have not adapted, have not survived. Darwinism at its best.

Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna noted that:

We really do have some first-class Jewish papers that have set a new standard for Jewish journalism,” he says. “There are significant stories that broke in the Jewish press because it was doing its job of probing Jewish organizational life. … I have a sense the mood is not good in the field,” adds Sarna. “Within Jewish journalism, we haven’t seen models that have truly captured young Jews. The question is whether Jewish newspapers will be able to survive.”

He’s right. Jewish journalism has not developed means to captivate younger audiences. Traditional journalism has been addressing this issue, slower than some would like. But few newspapers and TV stations, if any, haven’t added significant online content. But as in management, marketing and other professional strategies, the Jewish world is again a few steps behind the mainstream.

If it has any hopes of retaining a respected place in our culture, Jewish journalism, like the greater press, must embrace technology and innovate. Those who do, will survive and perhaps thrive, but in new, creative forms.

And like the larger field of journalism, there are two opinions about the survival rate of newspapers:

“Anyone who feels the Jewish press in America is safe is grossly misinformed,” says Arthur Horwitz of Jewish Renaissance Media. “While Jewish publications constitute a niche, and while niche publications tend to be less vulnerable to the broader trends impacting the industry, anyone who feels they’re immune from those trends is going to find themselves without a community to serve.”

But:

“Says Cleveland‘s Rob Certner, President of AJPA, “We do something nobody else does and nobody else is likely to be interested in doing. [The dailies] are not going to do the local coverage that we do. As such they will miss large pieces of information relevant to our community.”

I guess there is one last theory of survival for Jewish newspapers:

“As long as there are Shabbat services and restaurants with bathrooms, Jewish newspapers distributed in the community for free will always have an audience,� says Avi Frier, Publisher of the Florida Jewish News.

Posted on July 12, 2007

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