LONDON (Oct. 18)
At first glance, you might wonder just what the members of the group chatting in a pub in London’s Hampstead neighborhood have in common. There are men and women of all fashions and political persuasions, some work in the public sector, some in the private sector and others in charity. Some are experts in politics and others in education, while others know everything there is to know about Britpop.
Their conversations cover everything from free-range eggs and bird flu to politics and job opportunities in the media.
But members of the group all have two important things in common: They’re journalists in Britain, and they’re Jewish.
Last spring, newspaper journalist Jessica Shepherd decided to start up a society for Jewish journalists in London.
“Networking is so important in our industry, so I thought, why not network within Jewish circles?” she told JTA.
When the group was announced on a British journalism e-mail newsletter, Shepherd, a staff reporter for the Times Higher Education supplement, had no idea what kind of response to expect. Much to her pleasure and excitement, 35 of the 40 people who joined on the mailing list turned up for the Jewish Journalists’ Society’s first meeting in April.
The turnout proved Shepherd’s hunch correct that Jews in the British media wanted to meet one another. But she has other goals for the group as well.
“I hadn’t intended on making the group political,” Shepherd said. “But I wanted to address how the Jewish community is overly critical of the press and broadcasting, and show that we are, in fact, part of both communities.”
If high-profile representation is one way to achieve that goal, the Jewish journalists’ e-mail list is a veritable Who’s Who of British media outlets, with representation from almost all the major players, including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and Emap, a specialist publishing heavyweight.
“Even though major media outlets are represented in the group, Jews still comprise a very small proportion of journalists,” Shepherd told JTA. “The Jewish community can have quite unreasonable expectations with regard to the media, and criticism levied at the media by the community is often unjustified. I want to see our image change.”
Whether or not members are interested in image-building for journalists, membership in the group is growing. Tanya Russell, a news reporter at the National News Press Agency, originally joined because of her friendship with Shepherd, but has attended every meeting since for the social and professional benefits.
“It’s a really nice bunch of people,” Russell told JTA, “as well as a great idea for networking. It’s also nice just to meet other Jewish people. I think the group provides a great mix of work and socializing.”
According to Shepherd, membership has risen steadily, with the mailing list almost doubling in six months. To keep interest high, future meetings will include speakers who will talk about their lives as Jewish journalists.
Author and journalist Stephen Pollard, who writes for the Times and the Daily Mail and has authored a biography of former Home Secretary David Blunkett, has agreed to talk at the group’s December meeting.
In addition, Shepherd is organizing an unmoderated communal blog where people can air grievances, discuss current events and keep in touch outside of meetings.
Members of the group come to the meetings for different reasons and take away different things. Russell told JTA that in addition to making some new friends, she has found a new newspaper shift and learned some vital tips for using EBay. Another member, who Shepherd said she wasn’t at liberty to identify, told her he was intending to use the group as a sort of Jewish dating pool.