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Birthright for Reporters: American Jewish Press In Israel

Birthright for Reporters: American Jewish Press In Israel

One of the pleasures of an occasional press junket to Israel is the opportunity to get to know staff and/or editors of other Jewish community publications.

I’ve just returned from one such mission, cosponsored by the American Jewish Press Association and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The long hours on the plane and bus are an opportunity to share “war” stories, play Jewish geography and explore how much we all have in common.

This latest trip, the longest and largest of those in which I have participated, brought together close to two dozen journalists from both coasts and lots of points in between.

We spent four days in Jerusalem together, then split in two groups headed north or south for two days, reuniting in the end for a final 48 hours in Tel Aviv (somewhat diminished by an extended spell of cold rain). The focus was on exploring some new destinations “off the beaten path” for our readers. (Tough work, to be sure, but someone has to do it.) The highlight for me was a brand new aviation museum, with vintage aircraft, in the Galilee, but more on that later.

During the course of our trip we had a chance to enjoy some fine food (and a not-insubstantial amount of wine), take in some art and historical sites, cram in some shopping and trade reviews of our guides. In one somewhat bizarre moment that deviated from the script, we were hastily thrown into a group therapy session with Eyal Hefer, a goat-cheese farmer and hotelier who also dabbles in retreats for troubled youth, and we had a chance to really get to know each other, sitting face to face in a horse-training penn and sharing secrets.

The papers represented have varying circulation levels and different relationships with their area federations. Some focus on national and international news as well as local events and others exclusively on their bailiwick. Some have a large staff and some rely on freelancers and wire services like JTA.

But one thing we all have in common is an uphill battle. In addition to the general challenges facing the newspaper industry because of the pervasiveness of news on the less-profitable internet, we have the responsibility of keeping Jews interested and engaged in the affairs of our community at a time when affiliation seems to be waning.

For papers that serve relatively smaller communities in, let’s say, Nevada or Maine, it may be somewhat easier to maintain a reader base of people who are hungry for connections with other Jews. But in larger areas where people can easily be overwhelmed by the abundance of such connections, a paper or magazine may seem less important.

In all cases, as a touchscreen generation that has never turned the pages of a newspaper begins to head Jewish households and organizations, everyone is going to feel the effect on circulation and advertising.

That’s what makes the AJPA an important resource. In addition to its prestigious Rockower Awards competition, the organization holds an annual conference and has a listserv system for editors to share information. This year’s Israel trip is the first in 20 years. Hopefully it will gain frequency.

Besides generating a lot of good content, it’s an opportunity for constituents to meet and compare notes, building camaraderie.

“Some of us knew each other only as a byline on a website,” said Marshall Weiss, president of the AJPA and editor of the Dayton Jewish Observer, at the farewell dinner last week. “Now, it’s a friendship.”

But it can also be seen, in a sort of Birthright Israel for journalists kind of way, as a chance to recharge our spiritual batteries and reinforce our own connections to Jewish life and history.

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