Ouch! A “kick to the gut.” That may be how you felt reading about the Federation decision to cease publication of the Jewish Review effective January 1, 2012. I know this decision caught you “by surprise.” The Jewish Review has been a trusted member of the Portland Jewish family for the past 52 years. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Why didn’t they ask me?
I received dozens of emails (the majority were angry and frustrated, while many were supportive of the decision) following Monday’s announcement. It was “news” to you and it hurt. I understand – and believe me, being a part of the decision made it no easier. The past 48 hours since the announcement have been difficult, and I can tell you the weeks leading up to this decision were a challenge, as well.
I have always used these weekly emails as a way to share candid thoughts with you. And today, I expect to be no different. (Since the Sukkot holiday starts tonight and we are closed on Friday, I wanted to send my weekly remarks now.)
I am grateful to all the people who sent in passionate emails (and I hope you each got my personal reply). Several themes/questions came out of the communications that I believe would be helpful for everyone to hear:
Without the Jewish Review we will not have a cohesive Jewish community and we cannot reach the unaffiliated. Yes, the Jewish Review reaches 6,000 households and many more get picked up on newsstands. It is a way to share the breadth and joy of our Jewish community. This new magazine will have a similar reach. It too will be mailed free of charge and distributed around town. Federation will provide quality local news coverage, including recaps and highlights of upcoming programs, every other week. We cannot emphasize this enough.
Who are these people creating this magazine? The local publishing group, called Mediaport LLC, has three partners: Cindy Saltzman (Portland native), Bob Philip (long-time community leader), and Mody Gorsky (in southern California). The magazine is based on very successful models in both the Orange County (Cindy helped to launch that magazine in 2004) and San Diego, California Jewish communities. NOTE -- this magazine will be focused on Portland, the State of Oregon and SW Washington. To get an idea of the potential content of the magazine and to see the type of website that will be created, please visit www.ocjewishlife.com. I want to reiterate that this is not a news magazine – it will be different -- while Federation is taking the responsibility of delivering community news.
What is happening to the current employees at the Jewish Review? Let me say Paul Haist and Deborah Moon are incredible resources and special people in our community (I shared with each of them the warm sentiments and concern of so many). They deserve tremendous accolades! I cannot discuss personnel issues, but please know that Federation recognizes the incredible service of all the people at the Jewish Review.
Where was the process? I received an email from a community member who often responds to my “Marc’s Remarks” that said the following, “With all your rhetoric about bringing people together, etc. Marc, it seems to me that such an important decision was worthy of community dialogue, not just a closed meeting of the Federation Board.”
Michael Weiner, Chairman of the Board, and I have racked our brains about this before, during and after the decision. What could we have done differently to get more input? Some people suggested a town hall forum. Others said it should come to a community vote. There may be alternatives we could have considered and we will learn from this. What you should know is the Federation Board had a deliberate and respectful conversation about the Jewish Review and at the end of the day made a decision they felt was best for our Jewish community. I know there are those of you today who disagree with the outcome.
The paper has lost an average of $190,000 a year over the past six years. Perhaps that is a fair cost for a communications vehicle? However, I am unsure if this is what you expect from your charitable dollars? How many times have I heard that non-profits must run more like a business?
Many people offered suggestions to fix the problem. Ask people to pay for subscriptions – that would probably reduce the number of households receiving the newspaper by 50%+.
For those communities with “Federation owned” newspapers (like Portland), most require a minimum Annual Campaign contribution to receive the newspaper. Is that how we want to distribute the newspaper and is that being inclusive? Most federations with their own newspaper want to get out of the business – yet they have no alternative. We do.
Put the paper on-line. Very few have been successful with that model. And what about those who do not go on-line to receive their news?
Federation did its homework. This is not a new issue. We sought guidance and counsel from leaders in the publishing industry. We checked with other Jewish communities. We looked at the business model multiple times. We even inquired if other groups would be interested in taking over the newspaper. No matter what we tried, there was no immediate solution.
Now, what can we do with the initial $100,000 in savings (there will be an investment in making the new newsletter work)? Think about -- more in-home services for our frail and elderly…75 young people participating on Birthright Israel…more cash financial assistance for those out of work …additional scholarships for students in Jewish day school and Jewish summer camps…more outreach activities…and the list goes on and on.
Federation was not created to be in the publishing business. We just happened to be in it for many many years. Now, we have an opportunity for a new publishing group to highlight the vitality of our Jewish community at no cost to us while Federation works hard to provide important communal news on a bi-weekly basis.
As someone wrote me, “This is what happens while one is planning for the future. Perhaps it is for the best. No one will know for sure at this point in time.” All I ask is that you give it a chance.
In the end, I am proud of the Governing Board of the Jewish Federation. The easy thing to do would be not to raise the issue. They made a thoughtful, difficult, and dare I say, courageous decision. One that YOU will tell us was right or wrong in the months ahead.
Chag Sameach -- enjoy the Sukkot holiday.