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Will Diaspora Jewish media survive? It’s not clear

Reporter. Taking notes. Media interview. (iStock)
Reporter. Taking notes. Media interview. (iStock)

The authors surveyed journalists for Jewish media in more than 20 countries across eastern and western Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Australia. This is the third of three articles reviewing the study’s findings. Find links to parts 1 and 2 below. The full study, A World in Flux: Jewish Journalism Struggles to Survivewas released at the 2018 Annual Conference of the American Jewish Press Association in Cleveland.

Jewish journalists outside North America put on a brave front, but a survey we conducted tells a different story. Other than in a few English-speaking countries, Diaspora Jewish journalists are essentially cataloguing the slow but inevitable decline of their communities, while facing rising anti-Semitism at home.

Our research found that far fewer Jewish media exist worldwide than a century ago, and the regions in which they are concentrated have shifted. At the turn of the 20th century, about 80 percent of the world’s Jews lived in Europe, with 10 percent in North America, and 1 percent in Palestine. Data we compiled indicate they supported about 700 Jewish newspapers, 500 of them outside North America. Shortly before World War II, Poland alone had 230 Jewish periodicals, 27 of which were daily newspapers. Germany was home to about 60 periodicals.

Today, counting fledgling, Internet-based startups, we believe there are about 270 Jewish news entities in the Diaspora, with 150 in North America, about 60 in Western Europe, 30 in Eastern and Central Europe, a similar total in Latin America, and a sprinkling in Africa and Asia.

As about 90 percent of the world’s Jews now live in Israel and North America, the continuing existence of any Jewish media in the global Diaspora is a hopeful sign, but they are not flourishing entities. Half the journalists we surveyed said they also work elsewhere to supplement their income. Charities, concerned individuals, and government support are the reasons most Jewish media exist at all.

Many Diaspora Jewish media are official organs of their country’s organized Jewish community. For example, Czech Republic’s Rosh Codesh and Romania’s Realitatea Evreiasca are funded by World Jewish Congress and the Ronald J. Lauder Foundation.

In Latin America and some English-speaking countries, private media companies exist, but even there, these publications are rarely purely business ventures. David Singer, a freelance journalist based in Sydney, told us that Australia’s leading Jewish paper exists only because the publisher has the resources to do so.

“Publishing the paper is costing him; his heart’s just in the right place,” Singer said.

Peter Menasse, editor-in-chief of Nu, a quarterly in Vienna, said his publication is strictly a hobby he enjoys doing with his friends, who double as his colleagues.

“The magazine is one hundred percent not for profit,” he said.

Overall, we were impressed by the dedication of these journalists, especially considering the conditions under which they operate – limited resources, occasionally hostile environments, and language barriers that limit their interactions with each other and particularly with Jewish media in North America.

Most answered positively when we asked them if they supported the classic journalistic obligation to “report things as they are, even if doing so may portray the community in a negative way.”

Virtually all said they believe that journalism can play a significant role in improving their communities, and that they feel part of the global Jewish community.

But the evidence does not indicate a bright future. Only half of those we surveyed said they believe that Jewish journalism has a strong future in their country, and most of those are in English-speaking lands.

Outside the Jewish world, global efforts to support journalism are being piloted, such as the international reporting consortium that cooperated on the “Panama Papers” investigation. Several US philanthropists have announced multimillion-dollar projects to support independent journalism.

No large-scale efforts exist in the world of Jewish media. A Facebook group that seeks to tie together this disparate group, which is divided by distance, language, custom, and internal political conditions, has a few hundred members, but activity on it is spotty. One recent post seeking to “crowdsource” information for a story on whether national flags and the Israeli flag can be found in synagogues around the world drew two responses.

The journalists we surveyed told us they want to see creation of a world Jewish journalists’ association, greater networking, and more events like Jewish Media Summits sponsored by Israel’s Government Press Office in 2014 and 2016. The GPO has said it will hold similar events in the future. In 2018, however, as part of its ongoing wooing of the Christian world, the Netanyahu government put on a Christian Media Summit, which drew a wildly enthusiastic crowd of North American evangelicals.

A proposal we made at the 2016 Jewish Media Summit, to develop a website that compiles Jewish journalism from across the world and translates it into multiple languages, including English, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Russian, was warmly received by Summit participants. But such a project would require significant funding and backing.

In the end, the prospects for these media likely will be determined by what happens in their communities.

“There’s no way that one can predict the future,” Peter Menasse said. “Our times are fluid, along with the developments in Israel. A lot of our young people are going either to Israel or to the United States.”

Alexandru Marinescu, senior editor of Romania’s Realitatea Evreiasca (“Jewish Reality”), spoke for many when he said, “We’re going to run out of readers.”

Part 1: The journalists who won’t publish their own names

Part 2: Jewish journalists have Israel’s back and wish Israel had theirs

Alan D. Abbey is Media Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Max Moser was a Begin Fellow and research associate at the Hartman Institute.

About the Author
Alan D. Abbey is media director of the Shalom Hartman Institute. He lives in Jerusalem.
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