With the recent retirement of Gary Rosenblatt as editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, Richard Waloff, who has been associate publisher and chief revenue officer at the paper for 25 years, now takes over as publisher. Waloff has had a long career in Jewish journalism. Before coming to The Jewish Week he worked for 20 years at The Exponent in Philadelphia, the last 14 years as business director. He was also president of the American Jewish Press Association and on the board of the New York Press Association.
Waloff takes the reins as publisher at a particularly fraught moment for print journalism as ad revenue has fallen and younger readers are increasingly getting their news from digital sources. The Jewish Week spoke to Waloff recently via email.
Jewish Week: The newspaper publishing landscape now is vastly different than when you started in journalism 35 years ago. How would you characterize the changes?
Waloff: Seismic. The conversation back then that magazines and newspapers might somehow disappear or evolve into something other than what you could hold in your hand was unimaginable.
I feel many of the changes we’ve experienced benefit readers with 24/7 access to information; however with the financial pressures on media companies now so evident come job cuts. We see an erosion in investigative reporting (watchdog journalism), which compromises the media’s role to hold government, organizations and people accountable.
What’s the value of a print edition in a world that is going increasingly digital?
In the 1950s there were many predictions that with the advent of TV, radio would soon disappear. That didn’t happen, as we know, but what occurred is that radio became more specialized, targeting specific audiences with religious broadcasting, sports talk, cultural and public affairs reporting (like NPR), classic rock and the like.
I think, sadly, we’ll see more print titles ceasing publication or going all digital — never a good sign — along with an increase of print targeting specific audiences. In our particular instance, we continue to believe that print can bind a community together in ways that the digital format cannot.
A recent Pew survey finds that Americans want journalists to have a strong connection to the communities they serve. Is this a priority for The Jewish Week?
I believe this has been a priority for the paper and one of its strengths for a long time. Over the years, we’ve engaged in a lot of close-to-the-ground reporting about trends in the Jewish community. We’ve tracked the demographic and cultural changes in a number of neighborhoods — Harlem and Crown Heights come immediately to mind.
In addition, our commitment to the community goes beyond the pages of the paper, with our forums with newsmakers and opinion molders, and our journalism advocacy program for high school students, Write On For Israel.
In the future, we would like to increase the number of reporters we have covering specific beats, like education, Jewish arts and culture, politics and tech and business. If the dollars become available, this will happen.
Many news outlets have been going to an NPR-like model of asking readers for direct contributions. Is this the wave of the future?
I believe it is, and it is a difficult transition. Readers are unaccustomed to financially supporting the media they read; therefore, despite all the information out there about eroding finances for publications like The Jewish Week and the problems and pressures they’re under, it doesn’t translate into a subscriber clicking a link on thejewishweek.com and making a donation or writing a check.
However, with more and more media erecting paywalls and asking for financial support, we’ll hopefully see this shift.
President Trump has leveled unrelenting criticism on the media as “fake news” and as “enemies of the people.” How do you respond to this attack?
Look, nobody gets it right all the time, and there have been instances where in the pressure to report new information, or to provide an update, journalists have misreported information. However, while that has occurred, they or their company responsibly corrected that reporting.
I think we all have seen an increasing lack of respect for journalists existing in Washington. It has ranged from outward hostility to media, to threatening networks to not allow them access to press briefings, to White House officials misrepresenting the facts when answering questions posed by media. Hopefully, we’ll see this change as we approach the 2020 elections and events unfold on Capitol Hill.
In the end, the attack on the media is a threat to our democracy, which can only function with a robust media doing its job informing the electorate.