Chance, creativity … and survival of the fittest
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Growing up, one of my favorite songs was Waylon Jennings “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” The modern day version: “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Journalists.”
In 2015, when CareerCast put out its annual ranking of 200 common jobs, the newspaper reporter finished 200 out of 200 – last.
Ever since Newsweek went digital-only, we have been chronicling the decline of the newspaper, with weekly reports of media outlets slashing staff and of community newspapers turning off the lights.
The Jewish media world has not been immune, as in many communities advertising has declined commensurate to reduced readership and even Federation-owned and nonprofit papers that communities claim are their bread-and-butter are worryingly devoid of fat.
Is there a future for the Jewish newspaper?
If we take a step back and look at Jewish media consumption, it is actually “amazing,” according to Ami Eden, CEO and Executive Editor of 70 Faces Media. “On a national and international level, so much exists today that didn’t exist before 2010.”
Kveller. Tablet. The Times of Israel. The re-branded Forward. Jewishjournal.com, the online version of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which is anything but an average community newspaper.
An improving Jerusalem Post website, an improved Haaretz English presence – expanding, widening.
“This is totally new stuff that has never existed online. It is really phenomenal,” says Eden.
“There is a thirst for Jewish media,” says Craig Burke, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Media. “People are looking for content that educates, entertains and informs Jews.”
Burke says Jewish communities need content to build and strengthen them – “That is never going away.”
However, those Jewish newspapers that are thriving in 2016 are not your average, family-owned or Federation-run mom-and-pop shops from the 1950s. They are those, according to Eden, who are willing to “take a chance” and be creative.
Burke, whose company owns the Baltimore Jewish Times and Washington Jewish Week,
pioneered Mid-Atlantic Custom Media, a full-service custom communications firm, which now accounts for as much as 18.5 percent of company revenue. Among its largest custom media jobs are the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent.
“It started out mainly as graphic design,” Burke tells eJP. “Then we moved into content services and later on down the road we realized we could provide circulation fulfillment, back office accounting and administration, digital services and advertising management.”
To deliver the full package, Burke – under the leadership of Custom Media Director Jeni Mann – takes advantage of his existing infrastructure, full-time salaried staff that work with the company’s Jewish titles and three other magazines Mid-Atlantic owns, Baltimore’s Child, Baltimore’s Style and Smart Shopper.
“I have been really impressed with the way our employees are able to complete their primary functions and projects and still have time to jump onto other projects and put out high-quality work meeting strict deadlines,” Burke says. “We have been extremely aggressive about building the division.”
From the outside, Eden says he views the Mid-Atlantic custom media model as a “healthy development” on the Jewish media scene.
“Two papers in different cities cannot produce the same local content,” says Eden. “The national/international content we provide is already pretty cheap. The bigger issue is how can Jewish media outlets reduce other areas of expense? Mid-Atlantic is providing … a model for a group of papers to get together and reduce cost without compromising product.”
In Jewish Cleveland, Cleveland Jewish Publication Company (CJPC), which prints the Cleveland Jewish News, launched an event division that is feeding its vitality. A few years back they hired two individuals to run the department and produce a series of CJN-branded events throughout the year. Last year, its 18 Difference Makers award and event (which became 36 for its inaugural year) sold 700 tickets and “blew our revenue projections out of the water,” says Kevin S. Adelstein, CJPC president, publisher and CEO.
The 3D gala transformed what would have been a traditional feature spread in the print publication into something the community could rally around – including paid sponsors.
An average CJN event sells between 200 and 250 tickets, says Adelstein.
“Some of this is a drain on our resources,” says Adelstein, referring to events, custom publishing it provides that is not too dissimilar to Mid-Atlantic’s and the production of six annual niche magazines – bar/bat mitzvah, for example – that are “big revenue generators for us.”
He continues, “It’s survival of the fittest and certainly necessary in today’s world of needing to be able to go beyond the ad that appears in the newspaper.”
Adelstein says all of the company’s events make money, but they also achieve a greater goal: eyeballs on the page. At these events, CJN is able to effectively market its paper and offer deals that get people started reading; Adelstein says those readers tend to continue even after promotional subscriptions run out.
Eden says he believes that one of the reasons that Jewish papers are thinning out and receiving less advertising dollars is not only because of the struggle to define their strategic digital presence, but because they are not only reaching less people, but not expanding their reach.
“This is the most alarming part,” says Eden, “because if every paper had maximum penetration in most big- and middle-sized cities they should be able to make money … The readership would have high incomes, it would be a highly-educated audience and [advertisers would know they] have the potential to make money.”
JTA is turning 100 next year. MyJewishLearning was launched in 2002. When they merged in 2015 to create 70 Faces Media, which also publishes Kveller and Jewniverse, Eden said they did not do so to save money, but to connect more people to the Jewish story. Today, the brands leverage one-another, sharing content as relevant.
“Though we did achieve savings, we came together to invest in a more powerful tool,” Eden says.
As a mission-driven Jewish media nonprofit, Eden says 70 Faces sustains itself on a combination of the JTA syndication business (they have about 65 subscribers), its developing digital advertising division, consulting fees and maintaining and developing philanthropic lines. He says the company recently hired a news business development manager to help its advertisers and partners learn how to maximize exposure and reach through 70 faces platforms.
“We try to be as creative on the advertising side as we are on the content side,” Eden says.
His best advice, “take a chance,” echoes Adelstein’s.
“We are not afraid to try new things if we think they will move the needle,” says Adelstein. “That’s what makes you successful.”