November 14, 2018

Seeing the Whole Community

This is my 18th issue of the Jewish Journal as editor-in-chief, and, I have to say, these past few months have been exhilarating. One, I’ve never worked harder, and two, the reaction throughout the community has been incredible —  better than I could have imagined. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve heard a similar refrain, “I love what you’re doing with the Jewish Journal.”

Of course, when I hear that, I have to say (as I wrote about last week), “poo, poo, poo.” But I also like to ask: “What is it that you like?” I’ve done this countless times with readers from across the spectrum — religious, secular, left wing, right wing, young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish, everyone.

So, in honor of our “chai” issue, I thought I’d recap the thinking behind the reimagining of your community paper, a paper I have always loved and am working to build upon.

First, we’re here to cover the whole community. That means I can’t allow content biases to get in the way. This easily can happen in publishing. If an editor-in-chief, for example, favors religion and spirituality, you’ll see too much of it. If the editor favors news and opinion, or culture and the arts, or community reporting, or Israel and political coverage, same thing — you may see too much of it.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism. If we’re going to live up to our promise to “connect, inform and inspire” the whole community, we must keep everyone in mind and cover as much of the Jewish buffet as possible. If we focused more on the news, we would mostly inform; if we focused more on religion, we would mostly inspire; and if we focused more on the local community, we would mostly connect.

We must do all three equally. That’s why you see such a broad diversity of coverage.

You may see a pro-and-con debate on abortion, gun control or the Iran nuclear deal, but also a spiritual poem on the Garden of Eden.

You’ll see a dark story on neo-Nazis or the rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, but also one on the uplifting message of Hanukkah.

You’ll see reporting on Jewish outreach at the Sundance Film Festival, but also a cri de coeur from a Mexican “Dreamer” afraid of being separated from her family.

You’ll see hard coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, but also a dialogue between a Reform and Orthodox rabbi on the true meaning of tikkun olam.

In other words, it is diversity, above all, that is imperative.

Does every page in the paper appeal to everybody? Of course not.

Some people like our ethereal poem page, others prefer our political analysis and commentary. Some like reading about the local Persian gay community, others prefer a story on how the Jews of Puerto Rico fared during the hurricane.

Some people like our Israel coverage, others are just tired of anything Israel and prefer local stories. Some like to see coverage of a new film, others prefer a commentary on how that film connects to Jewish values.

Our mission, then, is to reach everyone in a meaningful way. That also means a great diversity of voices. Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page. We’ve gone out of our way to add more Sephardic and millennial voices. With op-eds, we look for opinion pieces that provoke thought, not anger.

But diversity is not enough if you don’t enjoy reading the paper. That’s why we’ve redesigned the paper to make it more visually engaging. We’ve also added a few special sections like “Image of the Week” and “20 (or 30) Years Ago in Jewish Journal.”

Online, we’ve increased our coverage of daily news on our website and launched the global newsletter “Roundtable,” which provides “fresh takes on hot issues” every morning.

Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page.

In recent months, we’ve produced more than 20 online videos, ranging from interviews with Jewish leaders to light-hearted clips on the Jewish holidays. We’re now in the process of building a sound studio in our offices to produce a podcast network.

While we’re excited about all the new things we’re doing online, we never forget that the community paper is our pride and joy. There’s no substitute for a paper you can pick up at a local synagogue or café. You can feel the whole community as you flip through the pages. It’s hard to capture that feeling on an iPhone screen.

One comment I’ve been getting consistently is that the paper “looks great.” Why is that important? Because in publishing, beauty is more than skin deep. Clean, attractive layouts engage the readers with your content. This is smart business: If we make the content more visually appealing, you’ll be more likely to read the articles, and we’ll be more likely to connect, inform and inspire you.

Poo, poo, poo.