The Power of the American Jewish Newspaper

by Robert L. Kern

As I have noted previously, when I discuss marketing strategies with Jewish organizations they always begin the conversation with social media. When I suggest that there are other ways to publicize their cause they are generally receptive to various online solutions. However, when I mention print media, or more specifically, the American Jewish press, I am faced with skepticism and even a measure of hostility.

To be frank, their reluctance to put their diminishing marketing dollars in print advertising is not wholly undeserved. Many Jewish newspapers have raised their rates – even their “non-profit rates – to an unrealistic level, or insist on too many ads per year when offering a “contract price.” Organizations seeking to publicize themselves without going over budget are hard pressed to know where to advertise.

I am a firm believer in multi-platform marketing. While I recognize the power of social media and understand the many positives connected to online advertising and promotion, I still appreciate the viability of the American Jewish press and its ability to both reach the population we all seek and influence where readers choose to direct their charitable gifts.

The Internet has changed how we get our news and information. Whereas Jewish newspapers had been an important source of Israel and Jewish community news, the fact is that they are published weekly, or in some cases, biweekly or even monthly. This puts them at a decided disadvantage in comparison with daily newspapers and especially with online resources such as The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Arutz Sheva, Yisrael Hayom or YNETnews. Some of the bigger and more successful American Jewish newspapers also have well-developed websites that are updated regularly and are not simply online versions of their printed editions.

However the printed Jewish newspaper persists and has found a place in Jewish homes throughout North America by their ability to localize the national/international stories, present thoughtful news analysis, opinions and features, as well as serve their community by featuring news of births, b’nai mitzvah, events at synagogues, JCCs and federations, as well as obituaries. In their pages – as long as they can afford it – are the butchers, bakeries, restaurants, mohelim, funeral homes and other local businesses that make where we live a “community.”

Warren Buffet, through his company Berkshire Hathaway, has recently bought 63 local/regional newspapers across the US and is reportedly looking to purchase more. As I see it, if Warren Buffet thinks print media is still viable enough to buy so many newspapers, I am not going to bet against him.

There is a caveat to this, however. He wants online readers to pay for the privilege of accessing these newspapers. I happen to be a big fan of reading news for free on the Internet. By 9 am, I have made my way through all of the above mentioned online Israeli newspapers, as well as the JTA. I have also gone through The New York Times and often find myself later reading additional pieces online, for which I have paid by being a subscriber.

The jury is out on whether people whose reading habit has been weaned on free access to online news will pay the price. I may love the smorgasbord of information available to me on the web, but I also know that sooner or later I will need to pay for it.

As I said, I am not going to bet against Warren Buffet. In fact, he may be offering us a solution. The American Jewish press is a powerful medium, but if they keep giving their content away on their websites, it is only a matter of time before rising advertising prices cause business and organizations to walk away and for the papers to fold or become shadows of their former selves.

Robert L. Kern is the owner and director of Robert Kern & Associates, a marketing and communications agency specializing in Israel and Jewish community advocacy. Previously, he was Director of Marketing & Communications at American Friends of Magen David Adom, National Communications Director of American ORT and also held marketing, communications and public relations positions at the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and UJA.