Mind The Gap: Bricks, Clicks and the Jewish Media

In today’s world most people would prefer to receive their news from online sites rather than newspapers. One is able to access more relevant information for free.

Sinking ship 311 (do not publish again) (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Sinking ship 311 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
RECENTLY, THE STRUGGLING US Blockbuster video chain filed for bankruptcy. One of the reasons was the changing habits of how the American consumer chooses to access movies. Blockbuster's experience shows the significant challenges in adding an online strategy to traditional bricks-andmortar stores.
Similar challenges exist for established print media outlets as they attempt to deal with their online presence.
In today’s world most people would prefer to receive their news from online sites rather than newspapers. One is able to access more relevant information for free.
And there is less likelihood of receiving outdated information due to frequent updating of many news sites. Even television and radio have lost out to the web in terms of reporting breaking news. Therefore it is no surprise that the Internet continues to capture an ever-growing portion of readers through both their websites and the various social media and social information networks.
The North American Jewish media world is not immune to these same issues. And with the added challenge of most publications dependent to some extent on financial support from the shrinking North American Jewish Federations system, the questions are many and the answers are few.
Unlike in print media where the independent Audit Bureau of Circulations provides audited-circulation information, in the online universe we are dependent on self-reported site visits – the accuracy of most of which is equivalent to the promises made by politicians seeking votes. Using these numbers, however, apparently the Los Angeles Jewish Journal is the most visited North American-based Jewish media website, with the Forward, The New York Jewish Week and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) lagging behind. All except the JTA publish weekly print editions – and through syndication JTA serves as a content provider to the other three.
A review of their online presence shows that while all update their sites somewhat regularly throughout the week, their content is clearly built around a weekly publication model. While both the Jewish Journal and JTA provide daily e-mail newsletters, the Forward and Jewish Week limit themselves to one newsletter a week – following their own newspaper model. These publications also still place emphasis on special supplements, i.e. the High Holidays, Passover and weddings, but have yet to find a profitable way to translate them to the online world. They, along with most other North American Jewish media outlets, appear unsophisticated in how to use the Internet and most important how to build strong relationships with their target audience.
In addition, continually shrinking budgets have reduced the publication schedules of some, and the content level of most, in the Jewish media world.
One of the challenges of online media today is the need to rethink the nature and purpose of their organizations and how to strengthen relationships with their respective audiences. And all of these publications are negligent in going back to their readers to understand their satisfaction levels, how they interact with their websites and what they would actually like to see.
While most Jewish world media websites contain blogs, they are all uniformly weak in fostering engagement among readers. Sure, they have Twitter accounts and some are on Facebook. But none are pro-active in fostering genuine engagement.
More important, not one significant Jewish media publication that serves the English-speaking world has made any effort to survey their website visitors and understand what these visitors are seeking.
Instead, from their offices on high they sit and strategize among themselves, and then wonder why they do not gain traction.
Do they really think this is how to engage the next generation of their readers? The Jewish community needs a vibrant Jewish media – to report the news and to evaluate trends. While we are not a homogeneous community, we are one with our own unique take on society – and we need our own media to understand, interpret and, most importantly, relate to our own needs and interests. At the same time, all but national publications need to recognize, and provide, some level of local content. The only publication that appears to have a viable mix is the UK Jewish Chronicle. What's even more interesting is that the UK has a Jewish population of under 300,000 yet the Chronicle's website draws more traffic than even the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
One cannot look at the Jewish media scene without at least a passing comment on magazines. While The Jerusalem Report is probably the most visible Jewish media magazine, the overall challenges remain the same for magazines as for newspapers. Magazines are not intended to be a "go-to" source of immediate information; they exist in order to provide in-depth analysis of current events and longer, more informative features. As a result, it is just as necessary for them to also keep current on new forms of delivery, engage with their readers and foster a strong online presence.
The rules are changing every day and the media struggles to keep up. The establishment Jewish media is even further behind. Unless they wish to follow Blockbuster into bankruptcy, and possibly oblivion, they need to change their ways. Time is running out.
Dan Brown, a resident of Jerusalem, is the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy.com.