American Jewish Life, the bimonthly lifestyle publication that began in 2001 as Atlanta Jewish Life and went national four years later, is folding. The magazine’s editor in chief, Benyamin Cohen, has accepted a job at an environmental news agency.
“Unfortunately, this is just not the right economy for a print publication,” said Cohen, 33, in an interview with The Shmooze. “Newspapers and magazines all across America are struggling to bring in ad revenue and turn a profit.”
So how did AJL go from Jewschool.com’s “Best Jewish Magazine” in 2005 to an editorial relic? Rumors about financial woes at AJL began when the magazine’s only other full time staffer, managing editor Bradford R. Pilcher, quit in January. While some of his work was reassigned, Pilcher, 27, was never officially replaced. Two freelancers confided off the record that they were “strongly urged” to resell pieces they had written for the July/August issue of AJL.
Due to Pilcher’s departure, the 2008 editorial calendar was shifted. The January/February issue was skipped entirely, causing a loss of ad revenue, confusion to many subscribers and a big red flag to magazine-world insiders. (After all, when was the last time, say, “Vanity Fair” just decided not to put out a planned issue?)
“Everyone has been let go,” Pilcher said. “Right now, there’s no full-time staff — no staff at all.” When asked if the magazine might simply be restructuring after Cohen’s departure, Pilcher said, “As far as I know, there is no one working on the magazine day-to-day, and I don’t know of any future editorial plans for the magazine.”
Cohen added, “This is a sad day for Jewish journalism.”
American Jewish Life, which was envisioned as a “Jewish Rolling Stone,” filled a gap for many Jews who wanted to read about goings-on in a community other than New York and California. Because of its six-times-a-year publication schedule, the magazine eschewed current events, preferring to run profiles, book reviews and personal essays. Although the magazine’s demise is imminent, don’t cry for its departed employees. Cohen’s book “My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith” will be published by HarperCollins this fall. Perhaps his next memoir could be about working during the last days of a Jewish magazine.