Tragedies, royal stories and the budget are – as a rule – good for the printed media. They boost circulation, advertising and income.
Covid-19 is different. In the weeks leading up to lockdown my own paper, the Daily Mail, was doing exceptionally well print wise, with daily circulation up strongly (as much as 75,000 copies each day).
When the shutdown came, distribution was severely curtailed at news stands (particularly railway stations and in urban centres) and advertising seized up. On a good Saturday the Mail could carry more than a dozen pages of advertising for cruise vacations alone much of that temporarily has vanished.
The coronavirus has hit the printed media hard. The only winner in the current circumstances is the BBC with its protected income of a whopping £3.8bn from the licence fee. Elsewhere the devastation is there for everyone to see.
Reach, publishers of the Daily Mirror, Express, Star and local titles, has placed one in five staff on furlough. CityAM, distributed on London’s streets, has retreated online. Daily Mail staff have been asked to accept temporary pay cuts. Those in the Jewish community, with a weather eye on the news over the matzo lockdown, will have been distraught to see that as people sat down to their lonely or Zoom sederim, the Jewish Chronicle and its lively rival the Jewish News went into liquidation.
Those of us weaned on the JC (where I was a columnist for a couple of decades) will be particularly shocked. The ‘organ of British Jewry’ has been around since 1841, was well stocked with national commentators and a reputation which extended beyond the Jewish community. Sadly, the paper that was once sacred to generations of British Jewry and on the doorsteps of most families not so long ago has been losing print followers at an alarming rate. Those born in the latter part of the 20th century and the millennial generation have looked to Jewish News, with its focus on community and events, and to online for up-to- date developments in Israel, the US and beyond.
The JC excelled itself in coverage of antisemitism in Labour long before it became a national issue and a factor in Boris Johnson’s winning the December 2019 election campaign. The JN also played its part and was the only paper which managed to interview Jeremy Corbyn. It also had a brilliant scoop on Holocaust Memorial Day when the Duchess of Cambridge partnered with the JN in photographing and chronicling the lives of survivors.
Reading the JC in the past several weeks has been a maudlin affair. The much-venerated matches, hatches and dispatches have been filled with death notices, many of them Covid-19 related. It is a newspaper, however, which has survived the Boer war, two world wars, the horror of the Shoah and the joy of the birth and brilliant resilience of the state of Israel. It has been the first, rough draft of British Jewish history.
When invited to write the obituary of my uncle, the late and great Cantor Philip Brummer, I remember consulting the JC’s archives. It was there that I discovered details of his first appointment in Britain when he came here as a refugee from Czechoslovakia.
At the age of 18, this ‘veteran’ of the Vienna Staatsoper was described as the youngest minister in the British Jewish community.
None of this rich heritage deserves to be lost. It is my strong belief, hope and confidence that from the wreckage of the JC and JN will emerge a new, fitter title – perpetuating the JC’s history and the JN’s understanding of community.
It will be more modern, forward-looking and close to the values of all Jewish citizens. With the brilliant and dedicated financial support of community machers I am confident a successor publication will be confident, refreshed and entertaining and can command support from the whole of British Jewry.