Substance Over Form


The economy, the state of the news industry, and new media stood at the forefront of discussion at the recent American Jewish Press Association(AJPA) annual meeting in suburban Chicago.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

But as publishers, editors, writers and sales executives pondered and planned for the future and relevance of Jewish journalism in America, the elephant in the corner loomed large.

That elephant was you.

Despite the somewhat lesser attendance at the conference due to financial belt-tightening, the AJPA is a robust and eclectic institution. Decade after decade, the organization brings together representatives of many disparate groups. The Light has been active in the association since its origins, and our own Bob Cohn is a past President and serves on the executive committee.

There are AJPA member publications put out by both for-profits and nonprofits; of the latter, some are Jewish Federation-managed, some are not (the Light operates autonomously but receives approximately nine percent of its funding from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis). The types of output are equally diverse, comprising traditional methods such as magazines, newspapers and wire services, and non-paper publications that include websites, Facebook pages and Twitter tweets.

The missions of the AJPA organizations vary. Some serve as community relations vehicles, others (such as the Light) as purveyors of independent news and opinion; and still others, such as JTA, as distributors of content to multiple publications.

And every single one of these organizations, regardless of their goals and strategies, requires revenue to operate. Whether through advertising sales, innovative business products or philanthropic contributions, the Jewish press operates in the real world and is in need of real resources.

The issue of financial survival of course rears its head in recessionary times. Many AJPA members have felt the impact of declining revenue. And with few publications of any sort having figured out how to “monetize” their electronic presence on the Web, the gaze into a crystal ball to predict the Jewish journalism future would seem opaque at best.

There are reasons to be bullish, however, even in an era of uncertainty. Many analysts of the news business predict that the niche publication, targeted to an identifiable group with commonalities, has the highest potential not only to survive but to thrive. One AJPA session stressed that ethnic and religious news entities hold particular promise. And depending on the niche, the need for a continuing newsprint product partnered with an electronic presence remains strong.

The real question is this — what value does the local Jewish community place on news? It’s easy to see why in tough times, financial resources would be directed to more human basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. Our local Jewish agencies should be commended for rising to the challenge and focusing on critical needs for those in the most imminent peril.

But in the long run, Jewish journalism serves as connective tissue for a vibrant community. By serving to inform, inspire and connect — as our mission statement provides — organizations such as the Light serve to bring us all together to share our wins and our woes, contemplate and honestly debate our futures, and honor all things and people Jewish.

Each of the strands of Jewish journalism represented at AJPA is in our opinion essential to a community’s healthy connective tissue. As umbrella organizations, local Federations can and should promote the good works of their constituent agencies. Independent news organizations must encourage healthy and lively debate, and solicit responsible views from all perspectives, no matter whether mainstream or distant.

Only you, as readers of Jewish press such as the Light, can insist on a rich tapestry of news and information as an essential part of your community’s survival. When readers, advertisers and donors are aware of the intrinsic importance of quality Jewish news and information in whatever medium, from whatever reliable source — whether the Light’s newspaper and website, or the jewishinstlouis community website, or responsible blogs, or regional, national, international and Israeli publications — they will do their talking with the financial resources necessary for a healthy future.

Of course we’re hardly objective on this matter, as creators and disseminators of news. But in an era in which it’s far too easy to micromanage one’s news sources, we believe it’s critical that any Jewish community have a vibrant and shared marketplace of information and ideas. The AJPA conference reaffirmed our belief that a future with such a marketplace is not only possible, but absolutely essential.

The rest, as they say, is up to you.