The Jewish world was battered by the pandemic. This was especially true for organizations that had to shut down their physical spaces — like museums and synagogues.
Groups and leaders were forced to pivot and innovate in order to survive and, perhaps, even thrive. In the words of my friend Rabbi Stephen Leder, “If you have to go through hell, make sure you don’t come out empty-handed.”
The Jewish Journal was no different. We also were hit by the pandemic and had to be creative and resilient in order to come out ahead.
First, the pain. When synagogues went into lockdown in 2020, it virtually shut down the readership of our weekly print publication — since synagogues represent the bulk of our free distribution. In turn, this caused a shortfall of advertising revenue, since most of our ad revenue came from print.
On Coming Out Ahead
Instead of bemoaning our fate, we realized we needed to take a hiatus from print and pivot to 100 percent online. This enabled us to focus and significantly upgrade our online operation, from building a new website to expanding our podcasting to growing our social media presence. Among Jewish news sites, for example, we’re now a leader on Instagram, with over 30,000 followers. When we return to print, the combined operation of print and online will be much stronger.
When we return to print, the combined operation of print and online will be much stronger.
When Will Print Return?
As we promised when we announced the hiatus, the print will return when our synagogues in the greater Los Angeles area reopen. Realistically, in speaking to rabbis and community leaders, it looks like the pews will be full again by the High Holidays. That’s our goal, and we’re now in the process of revving up.
But when we return to print, we want to do it better. We’re currently working on a redesign to make the paper even more reader friendly. And we’re investing in the environmental sustainability of our operation by having a tree planted for every paper we print.
Solidifying our Financial Support
The print hiatus triggered two moves. One, we reduced our staff to focus solely on digital. Two, because of the loss in print ad revenue, we had to broaden our donor base to cover the shortfall. Several local philanthropists who believe in the Journal’s mission, led by Peter Lowy and Mitch Julis, stepped up and played a key role in making that happen. The return of print ad revenue later this year will further strengthen our position.
More Diversity on our Board
One of our goals is to add diversity to our board. Four out of our six board members, who have served anywhere from five to 15 years, recently rotated out to give us an opportunity to add some new blood. Our chairman, Peter Lowy, will soon be announcing new members that will include new donors as well as rabbinic voices. For the first time, we will have a female rabbi and a Sephardic rabbi sitting on our board.
Like many companies, we have been working remotely for the past year. But instead of just returning to our corporate offices in Koreatown, we have decided to look for new space that will have more of a “start-up” feel.
Our editorial philosophy is to provoke thought, not anger. In addition to breaking news, feature stories and thoughtful commentary from across the spectrum, our approach is to cover as much of the “Jewish buffet” as possible to “connect, inform and inspire” our readership. That has not changed. These are some of the features we’re especially proud of:
“Table for Five,” which offers a diversity of voices on the weekly Torah portion.
“Daily Roundtable,” which offers three different takes on the hottest issues of the day.
“Jewish Streaming Guide”: With the Zoom revolution, this is a convenient guide to some of the top online events in the Jewish world.
We also recently launched a new section called “The Speech Project.” Edited by Monica Osborne, the section examines the controversial subject of speech from multiple angles, curating diverse pieces and providing our own content.
Our editorial philosophy is to provoke thought, not anger.
Finally, a little humility.
While the pandemic threw us (and the world) for a loop, it also awakened our resiliency gene. We’re fortunate and deeply grateful that we can even speak of “coming out ahead.” I’ve never felt more optimistic about the future of the Journal. The pandemic clearly brought out the best in us and forced us to up our game.
I’ve learned a few important things along the way, one of them being that Jewish journalism needs to sell itself more assertively. Jewish journalism, in my view, is an indispensable Jewish institution. It is the gathering place that deepens and enriches the community conversation and keeps us connected. Like I say to donors who consider themselves activists, “the best activism is good, independent journalism.”
As the Jewish community aims to regain its balance, we can only wish that other organizations will also find a way to come out ahead.
In that spirit, a gentle reminder to all donors: Coming out of the pandemic, the Jewish world needs you now more than ever. Please reach deep into your hearts and pockets to make sure no Jewish organization is left empty-handed.