September 18, 2019

Power of the Hebrew Press

The Jewish newspaper scene in Los Angeles was recently enlivened by the rise and fall of the short-lived “Jewish Voice,” and it is being invigorated again by the significant changes taking place in the local Hebrew-language press.

Although the combined circulation of the Hebrew weeklies does not exceed 10,000, at a generous estimate, the papers have a ready-made readership in the relatively affluent Israeli community.

The actual size of the community has stumped demographers for years, but it is vaguely put as between 35,000 and 100,000.

Emerging as the apparent top dog in the realignment of the Hebrew weeklies is Shalom L.A., which claims a paid subscription list of around 5,000.

Last year, Shalom L.A. signed an agreement under which nearly all Israeli and international news stories in the paper are supplied by Ha’aretz, Israel’s most prestigious daily.

Local coverage is concentrated in the supplement Israel L.A., which is folded into Shalom L.A. for its subscribers and newsstands. The supplement, which claims a print run of 3,000, can also be picked up for free at restaurants and shops frequented by Israelis.

Shalom L.A. is owned by the Shepher family, which manufactures safety devices for the elderly. The paper has now struck an additional deal with Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s biggest daily, whose bulky weekend (Friday) edition is available to expatriate Israelis.

As of this month, Shalom L.A. is printing a separate supplement of local news to be folded into Yediot Aharonot’s weekend edition.

The new arrangement spells the end of Yediot America, Yediot Aharonot’s previous supplement for West Coast readers.

The parallel ties to both Ha’aretz and Yediot Aharonot represent a unique arrangement, says Shalom L.A. editor and general manager Meir Doron. A rough analogy, allowing for gargantuan differences in scale, would be the Los Angeles Times drawing all its national and international coverage from The New York Times and, at the same time, printing a supplement of Los Angeles news for USA Today.

In a letter to advertisers, Shalom L.A. heralded its triple play, claiming that of its readership, 81 percent are homeowners and 63 percent own or manage businesses, with the average reader’s annual income pegged at $78,000. Adding to these astonishing — if valid — statistics, the letter put the combined purchasing power of Southern California’s Israeli community at $2 billion a year.

Shalom L.A.’s older competitor is Israel Shelanu, which is published in New York but includes a locally produced supplement, Al Hamakom.

Al Hamakom, like its rival supplement, Israel L.A., can also be picked up for free at locations where Israelis gather.

A box displayed prominently on Shalom L.A.’s front page credits its competitor, Israel Shelanu, plus Al Hamakom, with a circulation of only 2,000.

Doron Kooperstein, the Los Angeles editor of Israel Shelanu and Al Hamakom, described this figure as incorrect, but maintained that he did not know the real circulation numbers.

Mirroring the highly competitive newspaper environment in Israel, no love is lost between the two local Hebrew weeklies. Both papers operate with a bare-bones permanent staff, supplemented by free-lance and volunteer contributors and columnists, and both fight hard to survive in their small market.

Each paper accuses the other of plagiarism and copyright infringement, and Doron of Shalom L.A. is threatening to take his rival to court. (In 1990, the Los Angeles Times sued Israel Shelanu for allegedly pirating its photos and articles, and translating the latter into Hebrew.)

Kooperstein of Israel Shelanu accuses his competitor of the same transgressions and faults Shalom L.A. for poor coverage of the local Israeli community.

His charge is seconded by Avi Obligenarz, who writes for Al Hamakom. He is also a correspondent for the Yediot Aharonot in Israel and helps feed his paper’s voracious appetite for Hollywood news.

“Shalom L.A.,” he says, “is an embarrassment; while pretending to be the largest local [Hebrew] paper, it has practically no local community coverage.”

Doron of Shalom L.A. rebuts the charge, saying, “We’re covering local affairs better [than the competition] and are devoting at least as many column inches to it as Israel Shelanu.”