The story of the year in 2008 — Jewish or otherwise — was the U.S. presidential election and the fight for Congress. JTA had two reporters for the conventions and the stretch run, but I often found myself imagining the possibilities of a real D.C. bureau, with another reporter or two, and a videographer.
These days I find myself dreaming about it again, as I ask myself what we, the Jewish media world, could be doing differently.
Of course, it is always possible to better serve our readers by improving content and embracing new technologies. But the main focus, considering the tumultuous economic and business climate facing our industry, should be on finding ways to cut costs and improve quality by increasing our level of cooperation.
I know I’m not the first to make this argument, but no idea is entirely new. And, more important, despite plenty of buzz, whispers, calls, lunches, meetings, etc., not much movement has occurred. One notable exception was the JDub-Tablet strategic partnership. But while these two entities sharing space and a marketing team is a good first step, the partnership is an exception to the rule, underscoring how the Jewish media world generally has failed to come up with creative ways of working together to reduce back-end expenses.
Maximizing economies of scale, however, will save only so much. And it will do little to address the fundamental goal: making sure that Jewish publications are producing compelling and high-quality content that is being read by a critical mass of Jewish consumers.
Yes, we should all be looking to save some money by sharing accountants, ad sales reps and tech staff, or creating a wider health insurance pool. Yet for the most part, we are nonprofit organizations, not businesses. So the main question driving our efforts to cooperate should not be whether there are ways to reduce costs but whether there are ways to better pursue our collective mission of informing Jewish readers, building Jewish identity and creating Jewish community.
The bean counters out there might say: Did the Forward, New York Jewish Week and JTA need a total of four Washington reporters during the 2008 election season? Why not just share one, or maybe two? I’d put it another way: Keep all four, but instead of having them chase the same stories, bring them together to create that robust D.C. bureau of my dreams, capable of competing with any media entity in the world and, more important, producing the sort of specialized, high-quality content that would attract more readers, keep Jews better informed and, if done properly, create new revenue streams that weren’t there when we all were doing our own thing.
Along those lines, JTA’s philanthropy blogger/reporter Jacob "The Fundermentalist" Berkman is formulating a proposal for creating a new Jewish philanthropy news service — Little Tin Box — that would bring together the reporting of several media entities. The assumption is that readers (and business interests) would be better served if three or four reporters working independently for their respective publications found a way to coordinate their efforts to create a specialized brand featuring more reporting and new premium content.
The same goes for almost any area of coverage, from Israel to religion to Jewish arts and culture.
It is the premise behind the highly successful Web site Politico.com: that the secret to success in this new information world is to specialize, allowing yourself to do more, and to do it quicker and smarter than general interest publications with stretched budgets and stodgy ways of operating. And it is the premise that will allow established Jewish publications to reach and serve greater numbers of readers where they are, on the issues that matter most to them.
The way to get there is to work together.