I start with the difficult news: This will be my last Jane Looking Forward newsletter, at least in its current form. I’ve been asked to step down as editor-in-chief, effective at the end of this month, and am evaluating what role I would like to have in the future with Forward management.
But that’s not where I want to end.
I launched this newsletter in July 2017, a digital experiment born out of a desire to innovate and to grow my relationship with readers. Until then, from the time I first joined the Forward in 2008, I wrote editorials and columns just about every week for our print newspaper – which also, of course, appeared on line.
The print newspaper was transforming to a monthly magazine, a move I endorsed, embraced and led. Yet I needed a way to keep in touch weekly with readers, and I wanted the vehicle to be personal and conversational. So I created this newsletter, a departure from anything we’d done before. It first appeared in your inbox, not online. And it was only for readers who chose to receive it.
My former colleague Sharon Gitelle came up with the name. I can’t remember which member of our stellar design team, Kurt Hoffman or Anya Ulinich, devised the logo.
The idea was to keep it simple and direct, and over time I developed an internal rhythm, continually revising and refining. That is the beauty of digital journalism — it is (literally) not set in stone, but instead provides an opportunity to try one approach and improve it the following week.
There is a downside to this casualness: errors are more likely to occur when there is no editor, no second set of eyes. (As several readers pointed out to me, when last week I wrote pouring instead of poring. Sorry!)
But it’s also a forgiving medium. And an exciting one. I’ve lost count of all the digital experiments we launched during my more than ten years at the Forward. Anyone remember Just Married? Blognik Beat? Mitz-Vote? Soundtrack of Our Spirit? Some were noble attempts that rightly fizzled, or maybe were ahead of their time. I hope that other digital innovations — such as the Forward College Guide and the Forward Guide to American Synagogues — will continue to serve readers for many years to come.
The digital space also provides something essential for the kind of journalism I practiced and led during the last decade: the power to hold leaders, and ourselves, accountable. When the Forward began as a Yiddish daily newspaper in 1897, the only readers who could access its journalism were those who understood Yiddish. When we became a weekly print newspaper in English in 1990, the only readers were those who actually bought the physical paper.
But in the dramatic transition to digital that occurred under my watch, our readership expanded globally, and well beyond the Jewish community (which is why, with the news of my departure, I’ve heard from people everywhere.) This adds an extra dimension of responsibility to critical investigative reports and opinion pieces, which now can be accessed by anyone.
It also presents an unparalleled opportunity to have impact. To challenge the leadership of Jewish institutions when that is warranted and to question how our communal money is spent. To open up sensitive debates about the Iran nuclear deal, religious freedom and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To expose the cover-ups of child sexual abuse, and animal abuse, and worker abuse, in our community. To comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, and celebrate all that is good and meaningful about 21st century Jewish life.
When I was honored last month at the Forward’s Fearless Women in Journalism gala, I was asked to speak about a fearless moment in my career. I described when The Philadelphia Inquirer asked me to go to London — the first mother to be a foreign correspondent in that paper’s history, and only the second woman. Although the decision to go was wrenching, the outcome was glorious, largely because the people around me — my husband, my family, my editors — were fearless, too.
You can’t be fearless alone, I said at the time. And I believe it.
I have been fearless these last ten years because I have had to, but I was not alone. I had a fearless staff behind me. You were with me, too — readers who wrote notes of support, cheered at events, stopped me on the street and in synagogue, shared my work, argued with it too, subscribed, donated, gave me enormous strength. Even though I know I have made mistakes, and asked for your forgiveness. Even though daily journalism is an imperfect craft. You stood by me, and gave me sustenance.
And please keep in touch by email JaneEisnerEIC@forward.com through the end of this month.
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.