Monday, January 7, 2008

Jewish newspapers in focus, sort of

In the office of Jonathan Tobin, top editor of Philadelphia's weekly Jewish Exponent newspaper, hangs a portrait of Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), the Zionist leader who urged Jews to arm themselves against future attacks, then founded the Irgun militia.

In the office of J.J. Goldberg, editorial director of the Forward - the English-language spin-off of the Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish paper that taught Jewish immigrants how to be Americans - hangs a portrait of founding editor Abraham Cahan (1860-1951), a Russian Jewish socialist who evolved toward liberalism.

The opposed visuals confirm that history counts for a lot at these two vibrant, yet different, survivors of Jewish newspapering in America.
Tired of all the kvetching about crises in the newspaper biz? Here's some good news: Jewish newspapering remains alive and well.
Indeed. But this piece from the Philly Inquirer, which in focusing on The Forward and Exponent discusses a brief history of Jewish newspapering, completely fails to mention anything west of Chicago. Last time I checked, LA Jewry claims the second largest community in the country and one of the largest weeklies. Not that I am biased or anything. But back to the Inquirer's report.
Robert Singerman, a University of Florida scholar whose "Jewish Press" article in Jewish-American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia surveys the field, writes that "approximately 2,500 dailies, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, bulletins and annual reports . . . have been published in most of the 50 states."

The oldest continuously published Jewish paper in the United States is Cincinnati's American Israelite, founded in 1854. Philadelphia papers have included Isaac Leeser's Occident and American Jewish Advocate (1843-69).

Singerman also reflects on some standard criticisms of the weekly Jewish American press, referred to as "weaklies" by nonadmirers. He notes that many papers "rely almost exclusively" on copy from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency ("the AP of Jewish journalism," says Tobin) for nonlocal Jewish news.

Singerman observes that "more often than not, local 'news' is a bland potpourri of self-congratulatory press releases prepared by institutional public relations specialists." Some weeklies, he warns, "become subjugated to the local Jewish federation's fund-raising."
That last line is a reason I was much more comfortable joining The Jewish Journal, which broke away from Federation funding a few years back. And we might not have a huge staff or fleet of foreign correspondents -- though we have a few of each -- but I think we get along pretty respectably. Correct me or congratulate my colleagues.

(Hat tip: Luke Ford)

1 comment:

The Web Guy said...

Philadelphians in general have a hangup about not being New Yorkers, so it is natural that the Inky (I'm a former Inquirer reporter) should compare the Exponent (with which I grew up) and the Forward.

That said, the Exponent is a subsidized creature of the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia, not that there's anything wrong with that, and the Forward is independent. Apples and oranges.

The Jewish Journal has all the independence of the Forward without the historical baggage and the freshness oh-so-careful Philadelphia Jewish Exponent readers would love -- if they only knew.