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.
But the Jewish Times’ troubles have been more contentious.
Its parent company, Alter Communications, had a contract, dating back to the late 1950s, with the Baltimore printer H.G. Roebuck & Son. According to the paper’s publisher, Andrew Buerger — great-grandson of the original owner — the relationship soured in 2008, when, Buerger says, he tried to negotiate a lower price because he was unhappy with the quality and the cost of the printing. Roebuck refused.
The contract did not expire until April 1, 2011.
Alter broke the contract unilaterally in February 2009, according to court papers; Roebuck sued — and won. But Alter, lacking the funds to pay the $326,125 judgment, was forced into bankruptcy.
Roebuck’s lawyers filed motion after motion, appeal after appeal.
“I don’t know what they hoped to accomplish,” Buerger said. “To get our family out of the business? Whoopee!”
Calls to Roebuck were not returned.
The legal battle and bankruptcy filing are a sad turn for the venerable newspaper, where, full disclosure, I worked as a part-time reporter in 2007. Unlike many Jewish community newspapers, which are owned and run by their local Jewish federations, the Jewish Times is editorially independent. It could — and often did — go after the establishment.
The Jewish Times was founded by David Alter in 1919 as a weekly tabloid. Alter ran it for half a century, and when he died, in 1972, his grandson, Charles Buerger, took over and shortly thereafter hired Gary Rosenblatt as its editor.
“It was a sleepy paper, mainly ads and organization events,” Rosenblatt told the Forward.