Jewish student press group convenes in L.A.

More than two dozen Jewish high school student journalists from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco gathered on Oct. 24 for a four-day convention and Shabbaton that aimed to build students’ practical journalism skills while addressing the intersection of news reporting and Jewish ethics.

The inaugural convention of the newly formed Jewish Scholastic Press Association (JSPA), held at B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson, included workshops and lectures that covered issues such as Jewish journalism ethics, Israel coverage in the college press, freedom of the press in religious high schools, copyright law, photojournalism, layout techniques and more.

The conference was co-sponsored by Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox school on Fairfax Avenue, and the American Jewish Press Association. It was organized by Joelle Keene, adviser to Shalhevet’s prize-winning newspaper, The Boiling Point. A total of 28 students — all but seven from Los Angeles — attended.

On Thursday, the conference’s first afternoon, students chose among several workshops. One was led by Los Angeles-based New York Times national correspondent Jennifer Medina, who is an Orthodox Jew. She gave students a glimpse into life as an observant Jewish journalist at The New York Times.

“The most difficult thing for me is Shabbat,” Medina said to a group of about 20 students in B’nai David’s beit midrash. “We work in a news system that goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s quite unusual for any journalist to say, ‘There’s going to be 25 hours in a week where, not only will I not work, I won’t check e-mail or answer my phone,” Medina continued.

Students asked Medina questions ranging from her coverage of Israel during her brief stint as the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent to whether she has had to compromise her Jewish and halachic values as a journalist.

After Medina’s talk, Ricki Heicklen, a senior at the Modern Orthodox SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., told the Journal she learned how her religiosity is “going to shape my life later on” if she pursues a career in journalism. Heicklen is the editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper, The Buzz. 

Students from out of town stayed at local families’ homes and attended B’nai David for Shabbat meals and services. They also had an opportunity to sample the various kosher restaurants lining Pico Boulevard.

The event’s keynote was given by Dana Erlich, Israeli consul for culture, media and public diplomacy in Los Angeles. 

In one session, journalist Kathleen Neumeyer, the adviser of the student newspaper at L.A.’s Harvard-Westlake School, addressed the issue of covering controversial news within one’s own community. She discussed the balance needed in reporting significant news while trying to not unfairly hurt anyone. 

“What are stories that maybe you could tell, but maybe they could be harmful to somebody?” she asked the students.

Adam Rokah, a junior at Shalhevet and the arts editor for the school’s newspaper, The Boiling Point, said that Neumeyer’s workshop gave him insights into “what names you can use and what has to be anonymous.”

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the Jewish Week of New York, was among others who participated in the conference, along with several representatives from TRIBE Media Corp., the parent company of the Jewish Journal. They included Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief; David Suissa, president; and Susan Freudenheim, executive editor.

Deena Nerwen, a student at SAR, was awarded the JSPA’s inaugural prize for Jewish scholastic journalism for her story on the Tav HaYosher, an Orthodox initiative in New York that aims to improve working conditions in kosher restaurants.