There comes a moment when you realize you’re not a kid anymore. Hell, you’re not even a young adult.
Say you’re sitting with some colleagues who still have all their hair and none of your medications. For some reason, you use the word “we” in a sentence, and they give you a look like a bouncer outside of a hot nightclub. Access denied.
I felt a little like that reading a recent post at one of my favorite blogs, Jewschool. Jewschool is a forum for young “progressives” who like to tweak the Jewish establishment. Last week a contributor named Kung Fu Jew (hereafter KFJ) decided to tweak Jewish journalism, explaining why young people don’t read Jewish newspapers. “You have boring, uninteresting, irrelevant things to say to our demographic,” complained KFJ.
He went on to describe the kind of content young readers are looking for. Articles that treat intermarriage as a reality, not a problem. Articles that scrutinize Israeli politicians and policies. Reports on innovations on the Jewish “fringe.” And investigative journalism “into the stupidity of the Organized Jewish Community.”
Right on, brother, I remember thinking. I like to think our paper does all those things to some degree, but I’ve always wished Jewish newspapers were more robust and relevant. I don’t pretend that we’re reaching a young demographic, but I see Jewschool and us as partners of sorts in trying to use media to create an informed, engaged Jewish community.
And then KFJ writes this: “The New Jersey Jewish News doesn’t deserve to exist, as far as I’m concerned. If it goes under and Jersey Jews must instead read the NJ-themed page of the NY Jewish Week or a ‘local news’ feed from the Forward, well, so be it.”
What’s that now? I thought I was one of the good guys! Not just good, but cool!
KFJ claims the post wasn’t wishing us ill — rather, the point was that no medium deserves to exist if it doesn’t serve the needs of an audience.
Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better.
KFJ is right that “Jewish newspapers can’t accomplish lots” of what young people are looking for — or at least to the degree that KFJ would like to see. But it’s not because we’re beholden to the “Jewish ‘powers that be’” that own us. It’s because — and this may be hard for KFJ to accept — not every reader expects the same things out of Jewish media that KFJ does.
Which brings me to the “New Jersey Jewish News doesn’t deserve to exist” thing. Let’s say we’re as lame as KFJ thinks we are. For many of our readers, the local Jewish paper remains a lifeline for info about their friends and neighbors, their local institutions, and the wider Jewish world brought to them via JTA or through local perspectives on national and international events. It’s where they like to be heard, in letters or op-eds. They too might like the sort of boundary-breaking conversations KFJ is talking about — but that’s not all they want.
True, this may be a generational thing — and that as far as younger readers are concerned, we may be a lost cause. That’s too bad, but it’s also the way of the world. Network television had a long run, as did the vinyl record album. A new generation may not turn to them, but that doesn’t invalidate the original exercise.
But I can’t embrace KFJ’s “so be it” — or Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of “creative destruction,” which welcomes the fall of the old because it paves the way for the new. Because what’s been happening lately is that as one technology replaces another, the old is not just discarded but devalued. The blogosphere is a great example. Its proponents get giddy when talking about its speed, its crowd-sourcing, its minute-by-minute relevance. But hardly anyone on-line has quite figured out how to pay for the kinds of long-form, deeply informed articles that are the hallmark of professional (as in, someone gets a salary and a research budget) journalism.
KFJ also holds the mistaken belief of many young people that the world’s birth coincides with their own. Sorry to say, but one day KFJ and Jewschool readers will be scorned and rebuked by Jews a generation younger, who will titter at their “edgy” opinions and “fringe” ideas about creating relevant Jewish communities. And, like me, KFJ’s generation of rabbis, writers, organizers, and fund-raisers will read and listen to these folks and try to figure out ways to join their conversation, and invite them to theirs, without tearing down what has gone before.
In a lively on-line conversation sparked by KFJ’s post, my pal (and fellow Jewish journo) Larry Yudelson came to NJJN’s defense. “[T]he New Jersey Jewish News reaches more Jewish households than Jewschool ever will,” wrote Larry, “and will reach more Jews who need to hear the things that you, KFJ, have to say.”
Don’t just complain about the Jewish press, but make your arguments on “hostile turf,” writes Larry. “Write letters to the editor. Write op-eds. Make your voice heard. Take advantage of the…Jewish newspapers while you can.”
As long as we’re still around, KFJ, consider that an open invitation.