Jewish publishers seek new models in struggling industry

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Screenshot of American Jewish Press Association website.

Screenshot courtesy of AJPA

Screenshot of American Jewish Press Association website.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Editors and reporters from North American Jewish newspapers gathered in the U.S. capital this week to try to come up with solutions to the crisis facing their struggling industry.

The meeting, which took place at the annual American Jewish Press Association conference Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 10-11), focused on how best to serve their diverse Jewish communities at a time when the newspaper industry as a whole is contracting.

“Our older readers are dying off and our younger readers aren’t replacing them,” said Marshall Weiss, AJPA’s immediate past president. “We’re also not making money from the ads on our websites.”

Another challenge, Weiss said, is maintaining editorial independence.

According to an AJPA study, nearly 60 percent of Jewish media outlets receive at least some funding from their local Jewish federations, which support a range of Jewish institutions in North America and Israel.

“The reality is that other than in the largest Jewish population markets, it’s impossible for many Jewish communities to run for-profit media outlets. The result is that some federations are tempted to use their publications as newsletters, first and foremost. But there is excellent journalism coming out of these communities, all the same.”

During the conference, editors shared innovative business models.

Sue Fishkoff, the editor of jweekly.com in Northern California, said her outlet has become a nonprofit, a status that has enabled it to do fundraising. Ami Eden, the CEO of 70 Faces Media, noted that the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, his nearly 100-year-old press agency, recently merged with two popular Jewish websites and that all three are stronger for it.

The editors discussed the possibility of banding together to offer potential advertisers nationwide ads in a variety of Jewish newspapers.

Weiss said his own federation-owned newspaper in Dayton, Ohio, is distributed free in various places around the city.

“About a quarter of our readers are non-Jews who picked up our paper. The paper explains who we are. It’s a bridge-builder” to the wider community, he said.

Even more important, he said, is the role the paper plays within Dayton’s tiny, 4,000-member Jewish community.

“We’re the connection that allows people from one segment of the community to learn about another segment, and that’s important,” Weiss said.

LM/MG END CHABIN