Thursday 25 April 2013

The CJEnd: How will Jewish community cope with the closure of its newspaper?

Like most people in the Jewish community, I  was quite shocked to hear earlier this week that the Canadian Jewish News is closing its doors after 53 years of publication on June 21, 2013. Sadly, it is part of a growing trend which in Montreal alone has recently claimed The Hour and Mirror weeklies, The Sunday editions of The Montreal Gazette and La Presse and most recently Bram Eisenthal's excellent Local Herald (which will continue online). A few years ago it was the NDG Monitor which shut down. It still has a small web presence.

The Canadian Jewish News published a large Toronto edition each week and a smaller Montreal counterpart. It was only available by subscription. For those who donated a certain amount to the local Combined Jewish Appeal campaigns got it in the mail as a bonus. I have read the paper religiously for decades. The Montreal edition has three solid full-time writers about to begin circulating their resumes: Janice Arnold, David Lazarus and Elias Levy, the latter of whom was added to the roster about 20 years ago to contribute French stories.

I have fond memories of the CJN. While I personally never wrote for the paper, I worked especially closely with its editors and reporters during my 11 years as national director of communications for the Canadian Jewish Congress. Those were the days before email and I remember having to fax press releases and run to the local camera shop to have pictures developed and delivered to the Toronto head office by overnight courier. My fondest memory was the day the late Lou Seligson called and offered to do a column on me. Lou was legendary, noted for his reader friendly profiles accompanied by his signature caricatures.

There is no question the paper has a loyal following. This was obvious from the comments I received on my Twitter handle and Facebook when I posted the news of its demise. "What can we do?" on person asked.  "How are Jewish organizations going to get their word out?" asked a local publicist.

Well folks, there are options. The Suburban is not a "Jewish" newspaper. However, our main city edition with its door to door circulation and numerous dropoffs does reach a significant Jewish population. We have always published Jewish community news and attracted Jewish organizational advertising. That will no doubt continue.

The Jewish Tribune, published by B'nai Brith Canada, is actually the largest circulation weekly Jewish newspaper in Canada. It has paid subscribers across the country and a large number of dropoffs. In addition to my role as city columnist, blogger and features writer for The Suburban, I have served as The Tribune's Quebec bureau chief for 14 years. The paper already has a good presence in Montreal, thanks to an ace circulation manager in Bruce Segal who makes sure it can be picked up in blue boxes scattered around the city, at synagogues, condos and different stores frequented by the Jewish community. Publisher Frank Dimant, the executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada,  has already stated that the Tribune will fill the void.

“To ensure that the Jewish community, through its organizations, synagogues and fundraising groups, are able to keep their message in the forefront, the Jewish Tribune is immediately undertaking a review of its structure to accommodate increased editorial and advertising," Dimant stated. "In addition, while we have been examining a wider circulation in Montreal, we will now attempt to fast track this growth. We will also continue to increase the scope of our reporting and fill the vacuum that has been created and undertake to work together with the Federations to so the community is best served.”

The Tribune has an easy to navigate website, with quick access stories and a PDF version of each edition. That is much different from the CJN, which had an awkward online presence.

Montrealer Jews should not despair. Between The Suburban,  The Jewish Tribune and a handful of smaller Jewish magazines they will still be well served.  As for Jewish organizations, it would be nice for some of them to take a look at any personnel opportunities and put in calls to the likes of Arnold, Lazarus and Levy. They know this community better than anyone else and would each make fabulous publicists or programmers.

While the CJN has announced it closures, I just wonder whether this all might be a clever tactic to open the door for some white knight to come riding in to assume the ownership of the paper. Conrad Black is out of prison, living in Toronto with his Jewish wife Barbara Amiel and of course a former owner of The Jerusalem Post.  Could he be a candidate? Unlikely, but worthy of speculation.