Is Jewish Journalism On The Brink?

How do we as journalists create as insightful a forum as we can?”

Jonathan Tobin, the award-winning editor-in-chief of Jewish News Syndicate, posed that question at the American Jewish Press Association annual conference this week. Given the current state of the news media, it’s a fair question.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a journalist, going back to the time I was 5 or 6 years old when my neighbor and I created a “newspaper” for our baseball games in his yard. I’m lucky enough to have done this professionally for the majority of my career. Even when I write the stories that make some of you angry, I do it because I take the responsibility seriously.

Unfortunately, journalism – from local weekly to massive daily publications to online-only media companies – is in a rough spot.

Earlier this year, 2,100 members of the media lost their jobs. Communities are being covered less often, which means the watchdog role of journalists isn’t being done to the degree to which we’ve come to expect it. Jewish journalism, which I’ve had the pleasure of working in both here and in Detroit, is not immune.

“I don’t think Jewish journalism, or those who engage in the field, are any more or less exempt from the much larger trends impacting the media,” said Arthur Horwitz, the executive editor and publisher of the Detroit Jewish News – my first employer.

Horwitz said that the trend in the Jewish world is that newspapers have been owned either by Federations or by non-profit entities, primarily as a way to help assure that the local community has some sort of communications vehicle.

“In many instances what’s happened in that model is that the kind of discourse you ideally want – to have a range of viewpoints: some laudatory, some critical, some in between,” he said. “Those tend to get put on the shelf or toned down. Or in some cases, off limits.

“Today there are fewer independent Jewish media voices than even 10 years ago, let alone 20.”

Here at TC Jewfolk, we’re lucky to be one of those independent voices. Almost every weekday, we publish new content. Sometimes it’s good in the community; sometimes it’s bad. We dig deep into issues, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we offer community members opportunities to tell the stories of their Judaism. We’ve launched our own podcast, we’ve produced a podcast for Herzl Camp (and we’re looking forward to working with other organizations).

But beyond being that type journalistic entity – we’re more than that. We’re a non-profit who is engaging the community, both virtually and IRL (in real life). We do that using social media, social network theory, and human-centered design – and through old-fashioned relationship development. The media hub is one tool we have in our toolbox to build on our engagement model – and it is where we started ten years ago this summer.

As the Twin Cities’ only independent Jewish online media hub devoted to engaging, informing, and connecting the Twin Cities Jewish community, Jewfolk is wholly committed to providing readers with wide-ranging entry points for engaging outwardly in Jewish life locally and reflecting inwardly on Jewish identity without being prescriptive about what it means to be Jewish today.

The truth is that the journalism part of our mission – to engage, inform, and connect by our reporting and content – is never going to fund our operations. Like so many community-based publications, we’re niche enough to maintain a loyal following but oftentimes we are too niche to profit from big business advertising (though if you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check out our gorgeous Media Kit to see all our advertising, partnership, and sponsorship opportunities)!

So we are asking for your help – if you value local, community-based journalism that specifically services the Jewish community in Minnesota – bringing you up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest local anti-Semitic incident or longer-form journalism pieces on the state of our community, or just learning a new recipe or finding out something to do with your people, please consider supporting our work today with a tax-deductible gift so we can keep bringing you all of this and more tomorrow and well into the future. We count on the generosity of each of our readers and listeners – thank you in advance for your support!

So, “How do we as journalists create as insightful a forum as we can?”

I can’t answer for everyone. But for me, I know that with all that’s going on the world, its never been more important to be great at what we do. And we’re able to do it, thanks in part, to our community.