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Information and affirmation
July 1st, 2012
It is a bit disconcerting to travel all the way to Philadelphia in part for additional professional education, only to have an authority say, “No one knows anything.”
Yet that is what Larry Platt, former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, told assembled members of the American Jewish Press Association at one session of the AJPA annual conference. Moreover, he contended that this is a reason why today is “a great time to be in journalism.”
The announced subject of the session was “Change in Community Needs,” but it could just as well have been titled “The Revolution in Journalism.” Between the rise of the Internet and the growing prevalence of “social media,” the journalism profession confronts so many changes that no one — from the leaders of huge news organizations like The New York Times to the editor of one small monthly Jewish newspaper — can possibly foresee what is coming or what to do about it.
Learning such things is, of course, one important reason for the existence of professional associations like the AJPA. The conference, which took place June 11-14, provided excellent information, experiences, and suggestions. Highlights for me included:
• Two sessions devoted to social media, itself a sign of their increasing importance to the journalism profession.
• Ira M. Sheskin, one the leading demographers of the American Jewish community, analyzed the likely influence of the Jewish vote in the coming elections. (One interesting bit of information from him: while 64 percent of all adult Americans are registered to vote, some 90 percent of all U.S. adult Jews are.)
• Chemi Shalev, the U.S. foreign correspondent of Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, provided insights into both Israeli politics and Israeli journalism. In fact, he announced that Ha’aretz “for the first time in its history is viewing itself as a Jewish as well as an Israeli” newspaper and is planning on stepping up its coverage of the U.S. Jewish community. That means its leaders believe that Israelis are becoming more interested in U.S. Jewish life — but it also means, Shalev said, “We’re going to be competing with all of you.”
• We toured the National Museum of American Jewish History, in the modern building that opened in 2010 and that is located just across the street from Independence Hall. Its permanent exhibit provides a superb view of the subject — and Milwaukeeans may find something about it looking oddly familiar. (It turns out the same firm, Gallagher & Associates, designed both this and the permanent exhibit at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.)
• We heard an outstanding presentation on the history of the American Jewish press by Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University, the museum’s chief historian and author of the superb book “American Judaism.”
Of all that and more that took place, along with the informal schmoozing and sharing of experiences (what we called in the Navy “sea stories”) with colleagues, two items I particularly remember.
One was the session mentioned at the start of this article. The changes and uncertainties in the profession make this an exciting time to be a journalist because, as Platt said, “storytelling is as old as history” and will remain the bedrock of this field; but “the form of storytelling” and the mechanisms of how stories will be delivered “are in disarray.” That means there are opportunities to be discovered, especially for reaching specialized audiences. “The days of being mass are over,” Platt said.
The other was a lunch session with leaders of three Philadelphia ethnic newspapers, Hernan Guaracao of the Spanish-language Al Dia, Jerry Mondesire of the African American Philadelphia Sun, and Dan Tsao of the Metro Chinese/Vietnamese Weekly. One of them — I am not certain who, but it might have been Mondesire — said that his publication’s business was to provide for his community “information and affirmation” — important knowledge, plus a sense of pride and an infusion of enthusiasm.
AJPA’s new president, Marshall Weiss of The Dayton Jewish Observer, picked up on this phrase and said providing these are also among the missions of the Jewish press. I had never thought of it in exactly those terms before, but the idea — to say nothing of the rhyme of those two words — is catchy. I hope information and affirmation are indeed among the things The Chronicle provides to readers, and I will more consciously keep them in mind as goals from now on.