A wise friend advised me to share my values in this space. I said, I think the work should stand for itself. I was told, that’s nice but some may want to know, so share your values.
Okay, so as my grandfather used to say, here goes nothing. Here are some of my values.
I don’t care how “Jewish” you are. There’s no litmus test in my heart. I just think it’s nice if you show up, in whatever way works for you.
I think we all need to try to get along. I believe in respecting the power of human culture.
Judaism is important to me. I remember my grandparents through it. Long before I joined the Chronicle, I had my kid in a giant, homemade hamantaschen costume for Purim, yes I did. My family once won our synagogue’s design-your-own-menorah contest, with our famous (to us) Mer–Norah in a fish tank, with gravel.
I think Jewish community matters. I think it’s my role to use the Chronicle to help strengthen and build that. It’s critical.
I also think that for the Chronicle to be empowered to do that, it needs to be reader-oriented, which works out for me because I’m a reader-oriented journalist.
The Chronicle is constructed differently than some other newspapers out there, because I subscribe to a school of thought that’s been called reader-oriented or Readership journalism. I got started with it decades ago, when I got involved with a Northwestern University research project called Readership Institute. You can’t find the original research online anymore, but I’ve still got it in a box in my basement.
A non-Readership journalist thinks the mission of a newspaper is only to cover the news. A Readership journalist also thinks about the reader’s experience. For example, we run jump-out-at-you boxes beside Chronicle articles, which tell you how to go and do something Jewish. Or consider our story last month on how to make sure your vote is counted. Or notice how we like to include lots of names and faces of people you may know.
It’s serving the reader, not just writing what a bunch of editors in a conference room think is the big story. A non-Readership journalist thinks we matter (and the “we” is often a bunch of white guys in a conference room). A Readership journalist thinks you matter.
There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the general idea.
Like any good curmudgeon I enjoy getting frustrated with other news organizations that aren’t reader oriented. Years of excitement in the journalism world about Readership thinking has now been supplanted by excitement over “Engaged Journalism,” which is the idea that you need build relationships with your “audience,” often through digital strategies. Engaged journalism is important but less effective if you’re not also reader-oriented, and I get curmudgeonly about that, too.
I hear often from people in the Jewish community who tell me they love the Chronicle, and I know my secret recipe is straight from the Readership Institute fridge. I didn’t invent it.
Those of us who love reader-oriented journalism believe it’s a path to keeping journalism healthy and relevant, which brings me to this: I love journalism. It’s part of my identity. I believe in the power of sharing truth to make things better. I believe it’s not my role to tell you what to think. I’m not at all interested in picking out truths in pursuit of a personal agenda. When I’m doing journalism, I’m not thinking about what I want. I don’t write an Editor’s Desk every month, just some months, because I’m more interested in giving you news and others’ opinions than in providing my own.
I love objectivity, but objectivity is a tricky thing. It’s an art, not a science.
When I was editor at The Journal Times in Racine, if we did a story about Racine-made kringle, did I have an obligation to also tell a story about the same pastries made in Michigan? Of course not.
In Racine, I checked in with our copy desk annually to make sure they were planning a “Merry Christmas” banner for Dec. 25. I made sure we had some sweet, appropriate content for the day. I served Racine County, a largely Christian, Christmas-celebrating community, doing that work to the best of my ability while living proudly as a Jew.
Because here’s the paradox of newspapering, whether we’re talking about the Chronicle or any other newspaper. We’re objective, but we’re a community cheerleader. We’re middle of the road, but that means there is a road. We exist within a lane.
At the Chronicle, that lane means we’ll run a first-person piece by the controversial prime minister of Israel, and while it’s not impossible we’d run a piece from a controversial Palestinian activist, it’s less likely.
Our role is not to shield you from people you disagree with. That’s Facebook’s role. Facebook has constructed a fake world for you, one where you see lots of posts from everyone who thinks like you do. Our role is, at least sometimes, to remind you that we don’t all agree. Even if the other side is wrong, there’s something to be said for knowing what they think and that they’re out there. Sometimes, someone may have a good point that never occurred to you, something to think about.
This makes the Chronicle a continuing conversation. One edition may seem like it leans left, another right. That’s normal. People are responding to one another, learning and communicating, and they’re pursuing different interests at different times.
In fact, anyone in the community can contact us, with a proposal to write something, or with questions about what might work well. We like to hear from you.
We cover the community, and we are for the community, and that leads us to reflect the community back at you. Thus, the Chronicle reflects the sometimes diverse and sometimes homogeneous values of the community it serves. In this way, the Chronicle will soothe, challenge and inform you.
We’re all part of this big Jewish family, and disagreement is okay.
We are after all, Jewish, and the challenging of ideas, the learning, the discussion, these are close to the hearts of Jews and journalists alike.
In journalism, we seek to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s a common journalism refrain, but it sure does sound Jewish, doesn’t it?
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.