2010: The Tipping Point for Jewish Newspapers?

06newspaper1.480It has been an especially grueling year for anyone who works in the news industry – maybe even more so for those who work for Jewish newspapers in communities all across the country. As Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, put it in his column this past summer, “The combination of the national economic meltdown, the trend among younger people away from print journalism and the ‘original sin’ of news organizations making content available free online, where more and more people go for information, has created a perfect storm for the news industry in general.”

The quandary for Jewish weeklies is whether they can create a business model that offers a viable scenario for their continued investment in building a robust online presence (that has yet to deliver revenues) and one that makes a reasonable case to keep printing for an ever-declining base of readers/subscribers and advertisers.

On the one hand, as news and information moves more and more into the media/tech space and is freely accessible – by your own customized pre-selections – on your phone or PDA, it is not hard to conclude that the days of newspapers are numbered. I, for one, don’t believe that will or need happen. There remains something of great value in the simple act of handling a printed news paper and stumbling upon a story that you would never have pre-selected using a menu of online news story categories.

If my Jewish weekly were to stop printing, I would miss that personal reading experience and my connection to my local Jewish community, gained through a leisurely turning of its pages, would loosen. I would still keep up with news from Israel, the Middle East conflict, Jewish education and identity challenges through a range of online sources, but I worry that I would become a more distanced observer of the Jewish world and a much less connected member of my community unless some smart journalists working with our communities create new ways to reach and engage me especially around the local stuff. Yes, some of the new Jewish media blogs and sites are reaching out to young adult audiences online with coverage of some of the cultural, social and social involvement activities. What is still not well covered are the more mainstream organizational activities, community needs and other local matters. That gets lost.

I want to believe that community leaders and Jewish journalists are already working to figure this complicated challenge out. According to James Rainey, writing in the Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2009, young people are flocking to graduate journalism schools in record numbers despite the decline of newspapers. Applications jumped more than 20% for the graduate program at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and increased by 44% at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. As Rachel Heller, a graduate student at the USC Annenberg School of Communications who freelances for the Jewish Journal, put it, “There will be a need for people who tell stories the right way, with depth and context.” Fellow student Adrianna Weigold added, “I think we are headed for a complete convergence. And I am just headed for journalism, in whatever form it decides to take.”

I am ready and waiting. I hope that 2010 brings us that synergy and convergence to keep us all connected around the communities we value. Happy New Year!

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.