We must save Jewish newspapers from shutting down

Now is the time to support local Jewish papers by buying or subscribing. It might not seem like it, but it is an investment in the future.

A cover page of the Jerusalem Post (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
A cover page of the Jerusalem Post
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
It was distressing to learn that two Jewish newspapers in Britain - The Jewish Chronicle and The Jewish News - as well as the Canadian Jewish News recently announced plans to shut down due to the economic damage caused by the novel coronavirus.
Jewish papers throughout the world perform two vital functions: they report on local and international news affecting their community, while caring for communal needs as well. It is not too late to save these papers. And especially in the age of coronavirus and rising antisemitism, every effort should be made to keep the Jewish press alive everywhere.
In a Facebook post, The Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz sounded the alarm about the newspaper closures in the UK and Canada.
“This should serve as a warning of what is still to come,” he said. “Now, more than ever, journalism is needed. The world has been struck by a pandemic – but without journalism, our governments operate without transparency and accountability. Voices need to be heard, stories need to be told and, most importantly, the democratic values we stand for need to be upheld.”
Researcher Alan D. Abbey writes in a study he conducted on Jewish journalists at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute that the first publication recognized as a Jewish newspaper was the Ladino-language Gazeta de Amsterdam, begun in 1675. A Yiddish paper appeared five years later, also in Amsterdam – then one of the centers of Diaspora Jewry and home to both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews.
“A Jewish press engaged in the kind of work we would recognize today as journalism only developed about 100 years later, with a series of publications in Russia and Poland in both Yiddish and Hebrew,” Abbey says. “The first US newspaper with a Jewish name, Cohen’s Gazette and Lottery Register, from 1814, was more of a gambling and tout sheet than a newspaper. The first American newspaper aimed at and written for a Jewish audience was Philadelphia’s The Occident in 1843.”
The Jewish media as we know them today, according to Abbey, emerged as European and nascent North American Jewish communities began to enter the mainstream cultural and political life of their societies, playing a significant role in their communities.
As Yehuda Gotthelf, the famous editor of the now-defunct Davar, put it, “In the lack of an all-embracing organization or parliamentary platform for all the Jewish communities, the Jewish press served as a true mouthpiece for the interests and desires of the Jewish masses and for the molding of Jewish public opinion. For its readers, the Jewish paper served not only as a source of information, comment and amusement; the readers sought in the newspaper not only information and sensation but also defense, consolation and guidance as to their path in the future. Indeed, the Jewish newspaper reflected the life of the Jewish community, expressed its cogitations, pains and sorrows and gave vent to its aspirations.”
A Jewish newspaper, according to Gotthelf, “extracted the Jew from his lethargy and passiveness and gave him a measure of pride,” serving “as a sort of guide, mentor and institution to which Jews turned in order to pour out their hearts. It did not remain satisfied with the function of observer but fought the battles of the Jewish masses for their right to work, to a livelihood and to life itself.”
The Jerusalem Post – which was founded on December 1, 1932 by Gershon Agron – is perhaps the best example of a Jewish newspaper that reports on and reflects the concerns of Jews not just in Israel but throughout the Diaspora. In his mission statement published in the first issue, Agron wrote, “The reading public is limited, the advertising field restricted; but such is the confidence of the publishers in the future of this enterprise that they are prepared to produce the newspaper at a sacrifice.”
With advertising and subscriptions suffering, the Jewish press across the globe is bleeding. On the one hand, they need to adapt to the ever-changing media landscape – but they also need an audience that appreciates their value. Now is the time to support local Jewish papers by buying or subscribing.  It might not seem like it, but it is an investment in the future.