Los Angeles Times Spotlights The Jewish Journal

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Jim Rainey focuses his “On the Media” column on the future of The Jewish Journal.  His finding: the future looks pretty bright.  Rainey wrote:

Few newspapers or magazines escaped 2009 without losses and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles suffered like many others.

Operators of the weekly news outlet trimmed staff. They cut salaries 20%. Still, they worried whether the Journal — chronicler of a variety of topics including Torah portions, sexual mores, Mideast politics and entertainment industry chatter — would make it to its 25th anniversary next year.

But by banking hard on two of the most robust growth trends in 21st century media — niche journalism and philanthropy — the Jewish Journal appears to have extended its life expectancy and expanded its coverage of Jewish life in Southern California.

Rainey’s column goes on to break news about some exciting new developments here.  In a press release going out today, we spell it out:

A group of leading Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists has announced a major financial commitment to The Jewish Journal, the flagship newspaper of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

The commitment will help The Jewish Journal attract new readers and advertisers, and enable it to grow across numerous media platforms. 

In recognition of The Jewish Journal’s innovative multi-platform approach to community news and information, the company will reorganize as TRIBE MEDIA CORP (www.tribemediacorp.com).

TRIBE MEDIA CORP, a 501 © 3 non-profit, will stay dedicated to The Jewish Journal’s longtime mission: To strengthen the Jewish community through independent journalism and promote positive values across multiple media platforms.

“TRIBE Media Corp. will redefine community journalism for the digital age,” said Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Journal. “Our goal is to use every technology at our disposal to inform and convene our community, and to bring our community’s ideas and values to society at large—while creating a thriving, sustainable business. This is the future of community journalism.”

TRIBE MEDIA CORP. will have five divisions: The weekly Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, TRIBE magazine, a new monthly magazine that started production in December, jewishjournal.com, America’s most widely used Jewish news site, TRIBE Live! Production of live events and video, and Everyjew.com a fast-growing online social network launched in August.

A philanthropic group led by The Journal’s Chairman of the Board, Irwin Field, committed a significant multi-year financial contribution to the undertaking. The group consists of Arthur H. Bilger, founding partner and managing member of Shelter Capital Partners, Peter Lowy, group managing director of the Westfield Group, and an anonymous donor. These philanthropists will join the Board and Executive Committee of Tribe Media Corp. along with Leon C. Janks, Managing Partner of Green, Hasson & Janks LLP.

“This is not just a change in name but a change in the way we do business,” said Steven Karash, Tribe Media Corp. Executive VP for Advertising and Marketing.  Mr. Karash served 10 years as national advertising director in the Los Angeles office of New York Times Media Group.

“The new structure will allow us to help advertisers reach an influential, upscale and involved demographic in an efficient, affordable ways,” Karash said.

Rainey put our transition to Tribe Media Corp in the context of the larger challenge of maintaining a viable community newspaper.  As he wrote:

If the experience holds lessons for other ethnic and religious-oriented publishers, it’s that you can do good by being good. But it’s just as important to have a business plan, friends in the right places and a target audience with a lot of disposable income.

The Journal, its related website and a nascent monthly magazine recently nailed down a critical $800,000 donation that should rejuvenate the organization and guarantee its viability for the foreseeable future.

The money came from four philanthropists — Westfield mall Chief Executive Peter Lowy, Internet executive and venture capitalist Art Bilger, cooking oil maker and long-time Journal board member Irwin Field and a fourth, anonymous, donor.

On a $4-million annual operating budget, the contributions will “give it a very stable foundation and allow us to grow all these parts of the operation,” said Lowy, who said he expects advertising to cover more than 90% of the expenses in future years with ongoing fundraising to cover the rest.

“The future for print media isn’t the rosiest, but this is a way we can add philanthropy to a business enterprise,” Lowy said. “This is an experiment in what I would call a community media group. The Journal is very important to the Jewish community. But we think this might work for any communal group.”

He also charted the changes trhat helped us get here, giving kudos to our terrific line up of columnists, and our journalistic content:

Among the array of columnists Eshman has brought to print: conservative radio host Dennis Prager, who recently hit the left for its readiness to invoke images of the Holocaust, and liberal academic David Myers, a UCLA history professor who wrote last year that Jewish citizens were being favored over Arabs in Jerusalem’s ceaseless land disputes.

The Journal also has first-rate commentators in other fields, with Martin Kaplan writing about media, Raphael Sonenshein about politics and Jonathan Kirsch about books.

Generally thorough and professional in tone, the Journal covers stories unlikely to pop up in other L.A. media — such as alleged financial fraud committed by a group of Iranian Jewish investment managers and the struggles of a couple who lost two grown children to violent deaths. (The latter story inspired donations from Journal readers, including one who ponied up two years of mortgage payments for the couple.)

He also nailed the tension all community media face in reporting on communities in which they live, and on which they depend for their support.

And he revealed something not generally appreciated about The Journal: we serve an enviable advertising demographic:

Most readers pick up the Jewish Journal, which is free, at businesses on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, while the magazine, with initial circulation of 15,000, reaches up the coast to Ventura and Santa Barbara.

The high-end readership for both publications, with an average household income said to reach above $260,000, has allowed Tribe Media Corp. to reach beyond its demographic and appeal to a new group of advertisers.

Ads for Jewish mortuaries, summer camps, charities and schools still dot its pages. But with the hiring a couple of years ago of a new top ad executive, the company has broadened its horizons significantly. Steven Karash, previously of the New York Times, has helped lure buys from Porsche dealers, the Four Seasons hotel, Saint John’s Health Center, the House of Blues and, recently, the city of Rancho Mirage, whose resorts are a frequent destination of Jewish visitors. Even Macy’s department stores are looking at hopping on board.

“People now are looking at us as a media group,” Karash said, “and not just for an ethnic buy but for a niche buy with an affluent audience.”

While Jewish news outlets in Las Vegas and other communities had been folding, the Jewish Journal made enough improvements, despite the brutal economic downturn, that it showed promise. Its expanded Web offerings, including a social networking/dating site, everyjew.com. The online audience has grown to 350,000 unique visitors a month.

Sites including laoberved.com,fishbowlla,lukeford.net and others picked up Rainey’s story, which we think is a good one for us, and for all niche media….

You can read the story here.

Jim Rainey does a video blog about the Journal here.