Baltimore paper on the block


The venerable Baltimore Jewish Times is up for sale at auction on April 2. The Forward reports:

The Baltimore Jewish Times has broken stories about Orthodox sex abuse and once was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It has been the seat of high-profile editors such as Gary Rosenblatt and Phil Jacobs, now of The New York Jewish Week and Washington Jewish Week, respectively, and at its height published 200-page issues. But today, the newspaper, family owned since its inception 93 years ago, is bankrupt and slated to be sold at an April 2 auction.

There have already been two bids: one for $378,000 from Washington Jewish Week, now edited by Jacobs, and another for $440,000 from a newly established publishing group set up by a physician in Owings Mills, Md. The Buerger family, which has owned the paper for nearly a century, will apparently leave the business. And a new owner is likely to mean a new editorial direction.

“I don’t believe we are going to miss an issue,” said Neil Rubin, who has edited the newspaper since June 2011. “We will continue to print. We are all relieved. We were worried about health care and unemployment. I don’t think we need to worry now.”

The Baltimore Jewish Times’ troubles come at a particularly difficult time for Jewish newspapers. The Jewish State, in New Jersey, folded in 2010, and earlier this year, the Jewish Review, of Portland, Ore., published its final edition. Many other Jewish community publications have lost advertising dollars and have contracted.

New York Jewish Week Editor Gary Rosenblatt, a former editor of the JT, has this remembrance:

The man who changed the profitable but sleepy publication into a powerhouse was Charles “Chuck” Buerger, a Pittsburgh native who came to Baltimore in 1972 to take over the JT his grandfather, David Alter, founded as part of a chain of seven Jewish newspapers. Only two survived the Great Depression and one, in Baltimore, did well financially over the years, in large part because of the unique demographics of the Jewish community there.

A high percentage of the approximately 90,000 Jews settled in a tightly concentrated area of northwest Baltimore, which came to be known as The Golden Ghetto. Large synagogues sprouted along Park Heights Avenue, Jews began moving into the Pikesville area just beyond the city line, and real estate agents took to advertising in the JT.

But there was little local reporting, and much of the editorial content was filled with social news featuring photos of organizational events and charitable check presentations (known as “grip-and-grins”) and dozens of announcements of weddings, engagements and bar and bat mitzvahs each week.

As Chuck Buerger later said in an interview about the paper he inherited, “if the Messiah had suddenly arrived in town on a donkey, Baltimore’s Jews would only have known about it if he’d sent in a press release to the JT.”

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