JFL’s End Prompts New Media Partnerships

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 21, 2009, issue of October 30, 2009.
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The upheaval in the world of journalism has forced a new consolidation of Jewish media, as three niche publications announced recently that they were folding into larger Jewish organizations.

Jewcy, the irreverent online Jewish magazine that was abandoned by its financial backers last February, announced on October 13 that it had been taken in by JDub Records, the hip not-for-profit Jewish music label. The next day came word that JVibe and BabagaNewz, both published by the Jewish magazine incubator Jewish Family & Life (JFL), were being handed to new publishers. JVibe, a magazine and Web site for Jewish teens, was given to Jvillage Network, a firm that builds and manages synagogue Web sites, while BabagaNewz, a Web site for Jewish middle school students and teachers, was given to Behrman House Publishers, which handles Jewish books and textbooks.

The moves follow the announcement last summer that the journal Sh’ma, formerly published by JFL MEDIA, will now be published by the Lippman-Kanfer Foundation.

The new partnerships come at a time when other niche Jewish magazines have ceased publication. American Jewish Life, a glossy Atlanta-based Jewish monthly, closed in June, while Guilt & Pleasure, an extravagantly printed quarterly, has not published a new issue since the spring of 2008.

The recent consolidations were largely caused by the dissolution of JFL in May. “The reality of financial difficulty has been part of life at JFL for quite some time,” CEO Amir Cohen said. “It was exacerbated by the economic decline of the past 12 months.” After the board chose to shut down the organization, Cohen sought new publishers for its four remaining publications. JBooks was given to Ken Gordon, the online magazine’s editor; the other three publications were also given away free.

Cohen, who was part of the consolidation process that created The New Jersey Jewish News in 1997, says he believes that these sorts of partnerships are essential to the future of the Jewish press and that the economic recession helped to make tough decisions: “As I have learned firsthand from experience at JFL, when the alternative is running out of money, a lot of things have the capacity to change quickly.”

This ownership of Jewish media by larger organizations is nothing new, said Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School, pointing to the many newspapers that are operated by local federations, and to Commentary magazine, which was founded by the American Jewish Committee.

Freedman is optimistic. “I consider it a hopeful sign, not just for Jewish journalism, but for journalism in general,” he said.

JVibe looks to be in for significant change under Jvillage’s ownership: The print edition, which JFL recently discontinued, will not be restarted. “We’re recognizing that our teens are hanging out online in the digital space, so we’re giving them a much more robust digital space to hang out,” said Mike Kanarick, Jvillage’s president.

For Lilit Marcus, editor of Jewcy, partnering with JDub was the only way to maintain the publication, which she said could not continue with only herself in charge.

Fortunately for her, Jacob Harris, JDub’s chief operating officer, feels that Jewcy is an obvious fit for his organization. “This site is too good to fail,” he said. “Did we save it? Maybe. Are we simply excited to keep it alive? Yes.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com

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