Thursday, October 17, 2019

Last week in St. Louis, the 75-years-young American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) held its annual meeting, and for the first time I joined the conference. Since my work at The Jewish Link involves some publishing business as well as editorial, I attended sessions for both tracks offered at AJPA. What I learned from my fellow editors and publishers from the primarily participant-led sessions was quite a lot, in fact. I enjoyed meeting and networking with people who face the same kinds of roles and challenges at work, and it was beneficial to share best practices and philosophies.

As someone who came to Jewish journalism after primarily working in the secular world and in the technology press, one of my biggest wake-up moments at the conference came with the realization that many of my editorial colleagues in the Jewish press consider themselves to be objective, non-sectarian reporters who just happen to work for Jewish publications, despite the fact that many, if not all, are Jewish themselves.

My experience contrasted with this: I had previously worked as a reporter and editor on technology and military beats, and those experiences didn’t offer any complexity as to my loyalty or perspective, other than the fact that I am American. I was not a stakeholder (or shareholder) in any specific technology company and I was not a member of the military; I was simply a reporter. It didn’t matter to me whether IBM or Oracle did or didn’t buy a company every week. There were simply facts and events that I reported on, with as little bias as I could muster.

But when I came to The Link, I felt that I was joining a Jewish newspaper with a true editorial mission close to my heart, a mission in which I could, more often than not, infuse part of my own experience into articles I wrote or edited. My co-publishers Moshe Kinderlehrer and Mark “Mendy” Schwartz, with whom I work as associate publisher and editor, together feel that our editorial mission centers on celebrating and supporting Jewish life and continuity in our communities. We are also all three unapologetic Zionists, and we feel our views as pro-Israel Americans should, by and large, be reflected in our pages.

The AJPA conference, which welcomed editors and publishers from both Jewish national newswires—JNS and JTA—as well as regional Jewish newspapers and a few national magazines, seemed, at times, to be filled with editors who consider themselves to have no editorial viewpoint other than “impartial observer”; several of them expressed their view that they must offer space in their publications for as wide a gamut as possible on every Jewish topic. For example, when one covered a protest of a Jewish event, an editor said he made sure to go over to and interview people on the “Palestinian side” even if it was virulently anti-Jewish, to find out and report on their perspective. Why, one might ask? Why give column space to the viewpoints of those who hate us? “Because you can bet the Palestinian papers aren’t doing the same for the Jewish side,” he said.

This, to me, represented a small moment of Jewish journalism as sad and self-defeating, and in fact a potential reason why so many Jewish newspapers are getting thinner even as ours adds pages. In order to be seen as “fair,” editors in Jewish journalism give credence and column space to people who, by and large, don’t like Jews, who are, in fact, visibly protesting us, who don’t value our existence and who would, by and large, like to see the world whitewashed of us.

I realized this is not what we do at The Jewish Link.

At The Link, we provide what Shep Hyken, AJPA’s first presenter, called “moments of magic.” Hyken, a customer service experience expert who spoke to the entire group of editors and publishers, talked about the kinds of experiences readers (or customers) have that engender loyalty. He said all a company has to do to give a customer a “moment of magic” is to be 15% better than any alternative in every interaction. And every interaction, Hyken said, is an opportunity for that moment of magic.

From every email our readers receive from The Jewish Link or any communication from any of its reporters, editors or salespeople, to every time our readers open a fresh paper and settle down to enjoy it on Shabbat, our goal is to consistently give our readers what they ask for. They ask for news about their shuls and communities? Pro-Israel analysis about current events? News and pictures about their children’s
successes and their children’s schools’ most innovative programs? Features about the larger Jewish world and Israel? What’s it really like to make aliyah? Our goal, nearly always, is to be able to say yes.

One of the things we, as editors and publishers at The Link, love the most about our newspaper is that we create something each week that we ourselves want to read. Maybe we don’t get it perfect every time, but we do our best to listen to each other and to our own consciences, and we start over again every week with gusto. We feel our staff is part of our readership, so we trust each other with our community’s own interests.

For me, the high point of the conference was meeting and hearing Jonathan Tobin speak. Tobin, as many of you know, is editor-in-chief of JNS where he writes an opinion piece daily, and we often choose one from among his daily pieces to print each week. He, too, is an unapologetic Zionist and doesn’t fear using his personal views as a starting point for his articles. It’s what makes him so readable and so powerful as a writer. While I was already on a plane home by then, I “shepped nachas” at Tobin’s win of first prize, both in the columnist category and for a single commentary at the Simon Rockower Awards, the annual awards given at the AJPA. These were the first awards ever given to JNS since its inception eight years ago, but Tobin’s been winning AJPA awards for years.

(It was also great to see Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of the Beth Din of America, a Passaic resident [and Fair Lawn native!], giving a presentation about the important work the Beth Din does with the halachic prenup and conflict resolution; and it’s always great to see the Orthodox Union’s Allen Fagin, who spoke to the AJPA about the many projects the OU is involved in to benefit the greater Jewish community.)

So while you might read about tough or difficult or negative topics in our paper from time to time, you can be sure we will attempt to focus on the positives that our community brings to each story; we will focus on what the Jewish world is doing to “fight” or “address” or “combat” these challenges, be they at home or abroad.

At the AJPA, I learned more about who I am as an editor and publisher, rather than learning about the state of Jewish journalism as a whole, as I had expected. It’s true that we are all reporters and editors, but we are Jewish first. At The Link, we are not “objective journalists,” and we don’t seek to be. We have a viewpoint for which we are not going to apologize. And that’s why our readers come back week after week. (And for that, I say thanks!)

By Elizabeth Kratz