A student journalist and Ruderman Scholar in Jewish Studies on the changing landscape in Jewish journalism
by Deanna Schwartz.
In April, the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper, the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, shut down for good. They’re not the only Jewish media outlet to shutter recently — over the past 10 years, Jewish media has suffered greatly, along with the entire industry. Boston’s Jewish Advocate recently made the decision to suspend publication.
As many small regional papers have shuttered, a new kind of Jewish journalism has emerged: digital, pop culture-focused outlets that aim for virality.
Arguably, the two biggest Jewish media organizations are the Forward and 70 Faces Media, which encompass the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Alma, Kveller, My Jewish Learning, and The Nosher.
Both have long histories — the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (or JTA) was founded in 1917, and the Forward was founded in 1897. Both have taken a digital-focused approach to what appears to be success.
The Forward obviously has an important history, but their future is murky. Jodi Rudoren joined the Forward as editor-in-chief in July 2019, with the goal to bring the publication into the digital era. But Rudoren has an old-school mindset that’s representative of the publication.
Batya Ungar-Sargon, the Forward’s former opinion editor who just left the publication, gained infamy during her time at the Forward for her both-sides approach, willingness to publish offensive opinions, and documented history of mistreating Jews of color who wrote for her. She’s now at Newsweek, the newsmagazine that has driven off into the right-wing deep end.
The Forward’s news department mainly reports on national news — antisemitic incidents, Jewish celebrity news, Israeli politics, etc. Their reporters are New York and Washington, D.C. based, as most journalists are.
Also national focused is 70 Faces Media. The JTA has a similar scope as the Forward, with perhaps less of a clickbait-y approach. 70 Faces Media has carved out distinctive niches with their many brands — JTA is for hard news, Alma is the feminist, pop-culture publication, Kveller is the parenting vertical, Nosher is for food/cooking, and My Jewish Learning is for Jewish education.
The 70 Faces brands are very successful on social media. On Instagram, Alma has 75k followers, Nosher has 80k, My Jewish Learning has 35k, and Kveller has 25k. 70 Faces Media’s approach to social media has gotten new audiences to pay attention and is overall changing the game. Specifically, they’ve excelled at reaching younger audiences.
What makes these outlets different from the older forms of Jewish journalism is their digital approach. They’ve changed to fit the time and they’ve seen success.
With local newspapers being gutted and Jewish papers facing economic devastation, who is going to tell these stories?
Other smaller national outlets include Jewish Currents, the leftist magazine. Jewish Currents takes a fairly strong stance critical of Israel and looks for its audience in If Not Now-type young urbanite Jews. There’s Jewish Insider, which covers politics through a Jewish lens, the feminist Lillith Magazine, and Tablet Magazine.
Of course, many regional Jewish papers are still around. The ones that are still hanging in are trying their best to keep up with the digital age and adapt to new practices. Papers in predominantly Jewish areas like New York and South Florida probably aren’t going to die completely. But they may become hollowed-out shells of their former selves.
I’ve written for Alma (70 Faces Media) and for a regional Jewish paper, the Baltimore Jewish Times. The former brings viral power and a large audience, but the latter brings community recognition and the ability to see real impact.
The big national outlets are doing relatively well, but a small, NYC-based office can only do so much. With only national outlets, local news will get lost. Jewish communities are already often overlooked by local news outlets, prompting regional Jewish papers to fill the gaps. With local newspapers being gutted and Jewish papers facing economic devastation, who is going to tell these stories?