It is somewhat of a triumph that the American Jewish Press Association is having its 2013 annual conference in Seattle, since the economic recession battered so many Jewish publications and general media in the U.S. and caused them to slash budgets and shed staff.
But for the 60 AJPA publishers, editors, freelance journalists, reporters, and staff who will arrive here next week, many for the first time, the conference’s concurrent business and editorial tracks will tackle some of the big questions that face them today: How to increase readership and circulation, grow economic bases, train reporters, and compete among increasingly diverse electronic platforms.
Over two days of programming, industry leaders, small startups, local journalists, academics from Israel, and even the head of a Jewish newspaper in Warsaw, Poland will offer insight into success strategies.
“I had a vision that I wanted to leverage the startup mentality here in Seattle and hopefully, to some extent, the social justice perspective of the Jewish community here,” said Joel Magalnick, editor and publisher of JTNews, who is chairing and helping to organize the conference.
Magalnick is a vice president of the AJPA.
“On the business track, we’re always trying to find better and more efficient ways of running the business end of the paper as well as collaborating and keeping up with technology,” Magalnick said. “On the editorial side, I think there always needs to be two goals — to try and enable us to do our jobs better….and there’s also the learning aspect.”
To discuss how they’ve increased their circulation, Josh O’Connor from Sound Publishing and Jim Fleigner, a circulation consultant from Impact Consultancy in California, will share models and initiatives they’ve employed to beef up their numbers.
Also, Tracy Recker, the editor of the widely read West Seattle Blog, and Rob Salkowitz from MediaPlant will lead sessions that feature strategies on attracting and keeping loyal readers.
“We’ve all lost so much ad revenue through the recession,” said Marshall Weiss, AJPA’s president and the editor and publisher of the Dayton, Ohio Jewish Observer. “Things are stabilized, we’ve adjusted to the new economy, and we’re coming back.”
Still, the newspaper industry as a whole has not figured out how to make money on their websites, although people are flocking to them and reading news on their computers, phones and tablets. Rick Kestenbaum, the chief operating officer and general manager at The New Jersey Jewish News, who is scheduled to talk about his paper’s decision to implement a paywall for readers that want to read its online version, told JTNews his paper has little to lose and much to gain by doing so.
“We get all of our circulation revenue and 99.5 percent of our revenue from our print edition,” said Kestenbaum. “Why give our content to so many people for no circulation revenue and so little ad revenue?”
Kestenbaum said “it’s a mistake” not to charge.
“Unlike a major daily paper, where much of the content is easily found elsewhere [world news, sports, etc.],” he said, “there is no alternative for news of the local Jewish community.”
Many other newspapers, however, both Jewish and secular, have not yet embraced this approach.
“There’s no one quick fix, cure-all, or solution for monetizing the web,” said Weiss. “I don’t know anyone who is really making it in the general media on monetizing the web. No one’s figured it out.”
The one essential factor in attracting and keeping readers, in addition to user-friendly websites and savvy technical innovations, say Weiss and Magalnick, is accurate and informed reporting.
Journalists who cover the Jewish community must bring the same knowledge and integrity to the job as those in the general media, said Magalnick, who included a training session, “Cultivating the Next Generation of Jewish Journalists,” for aspiring Jewish journalists in the conference and opened it to college students for free.
“I think the aspirations of any Jewish journalist, or any Jewish newspaper or publication, should be what people expect are the aspirations of the Jewish community — that we have high standards of objectivity and accuracy, the things that people are looking for in good journalism,” Magalnick said.
Weiss said a Jewish journalist must balance a kind of tension between being a part of the story and the community while remaining “apart” from it to cover it fairly.
“Ideally, you want someone who is literate when it comes to Jewish concepts, Jewish ideas, and Jewish values,” said Weiss, “and you want someone who has had a solid journalistic education.”
Kicking off the conference will be a discussion on Jewish journalism, based on a survey by Alan Abbey of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, which received more than 100 responses and will discuss the ethical, editorial and political challenges of reporting on local Jewish communities.
Weiss said that according to the feedback he receives from editors across the U.S., Israel is on the top of their list of hot topics.
“What I’m hearing from my colleagues in the Jewish media are the culture wars going on in Israel between the Haredi Israelis and the rest of Israeli society in terms of how they participate or don’t participate in Israeli society,” said Weiss.