Yesterday it was announced that The Jewish Exponent, Philadelphia’s communal Jewish publication since 1887, cut most of its staff and outsourced its production to Mid-Atlantic Media, based out of Maryland. Whose fault is this? Social media is already abuzz with finger pointing.
Many commenters are blaming The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Federation is being accused of mismanagement and a desire not to invest the necessary funds to keep The Jewish Exponent going locally. Some members of the Jewish community have complained for a long time that they did not feel that their voices were being included in the Exponent’s pages.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice was founded ten years ago to address the last complaint. People who felt excluded from the communal conversation taking place in The Jewish Exponent were invited to submit their articles to The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Unlike The Exponent’s paper editions, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is issued exclusively online. It has only one paid staffer. The rest of the contributors are volunteers.
The Jewish Exponent and The Philadelphia Jewish Voice have complemented each other these past ten years. Each offered something that the other did not, thus meeting the needs of different segments of the Jewish community. I am The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s immediate past president. Lisa Hostein, The Exponent’s editor, is a dear friend of mine. I have published articles in the Exponent. We coexisted in a spirit of collegiality and mutual respect.
It is not Federation’s fault that The Jewish Exponent is being outsourced. It is not The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s fault that fifteen of our friends and colleagues were laid off. It is the whole community’s fault. A communal publication cannot exist without the community’s support. In the past, every Jewish family in the area would get The Jewish Exponent to stay on top of the news of the community. It was very important to people to announce engagements, marriages, births, and deaths in The Exponent.
Over the past 25 years, I have observed a change in our community. People are so busy fighting each other that our institutions are collapsing. Federation is no longer getting the communal support it used to command. Jews no longer feel that they need to belong to a synagogue in order to be members of the community. Many of the younger Jews do not feel a connection to Israel or Zionism. Many Jews don’t bother reading about news in the community at all. The Jewish Exponent’s sales plummeted from 80,000 to 24,000 per week.
It has been reported that The Jewish Exponent’s annual deficit grew to $300,000. The Jewish Federation made the difficult but fiscally unavoidable decision for The Jewish Exponent. The status quo was unsustainable. Let this be a wake up call to everyone! We cannot take our institutions and our sense of communal identity for granted. We need to invest more of ourselves, including our financial resources, in our communal infrastructure.