By: Mark Fitzgerald
Big charity’s compromise fails to calm long-running
dispute between Jewish World and Jewish Week sp.
KING SOLOMON MIGHT not have had such a reputation for wisdom if he had been called upon to settle the Jewish newspaper war in Long Island, N.Y.
Another attempt at compromise nearly went down in flames recently in what has been a long-running dispute between the family-owned Long Island Jewish World and the Manhattan-based Jewish Week, a paper that gets the bulk of its subscribers through an arrangement with New York’s largest Jewish charity, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.
In one way, the dispute mirrors a controversy that is roiling Jewish newspaper journalism throughout the country: It pits an “independent” paper against one subsidized by a Federation charity.
In the case of Jewish Week, the charity mails the paper free to households who contribute $36 or more to the Federation annually. About 82,000 households get the paper through this arrangement.
Long Island Jewish World co-owner Jerome William Lippman complained for years that this “subsidy” amounted to unfair competition ? and he urged the Federation to either get out of the newspaper business or extend the subsidy to his paper and other independent-area Jewish newspapers.
In the spring of 1994, the Federation decided to allow its donors on Long Island to choose between Lippman’s Jewish World and the Jewish Week. Donors would receive the two papers for four weeks during the summer and would then choose to get either paper. Donors who did not make a choice would continue to receive the Jewish Week.
The compromise was almost immediately bogged down in arguments over details of its implementation and finally got under way in early March, about eight months behind schedule. No sooner had the new practice been set in motion, however, than the controversy grew even greater.The chairman of the Federation committee overseeing the test, New York Post publisher Martin Singerman, threatened to scrub the program in a letter to Lippman. According to an account by Douglas Feiden in The Forward, the Manhattan-based, English-language Jewish weekly, Singerman accused Lippman of violating “the letter and spirit” of the trial by publishing an editorial and house ads about the donor option. March 3 editions of Jewish World also included a small star burst in the flag with the words, “Welcome UJA-Federation contributors!”
In an editorial and house ad, the paper stressed its independence and Long Island roots.
“Choose the Long Island Jewish World. Because your world is our world,” the house ad read.
A week before the trial began, the Jewish Week published its own house ad, urging Federation donors to opt for continued receipt of the paper.
The ad stressed the quality of its columnists, its editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt ? a well-regarded figure in Jewish newspaper journalism ? and its “greatly expanded Long island section.”
Singerman, however, apparently did not sanction the Jewish Week for that ad. (Singerman did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.) Instead, Singerman offered the Jewish Week an opportunity to respond to the Jewish World editorial and ad.
In an open letter to readers, Jewish Week editor and publisher Rosenblatt took strong exception to a statement in the Jewish World ad that said, “Just as UJA-Federation came to recognize that Long Island deserved its own campaign headquarters, the philanthropy has come to understand how indispensable the Long Island Jewish World is ? and has been, for a long time ? to the energy and vitality of our Long Island Jewish world.”
“The Jewish World,” Rosenblatt wrote, “strongly implied that the UJA-Federation is aligned with, and supportive of, the Jewish World. This is simply not true, and the UJA-Federation committee has reprimanded the publisher of the Jewish World for misrepresenting the facts and violating the agreement.”
The usually outspoken Jewish World publisher Lippman ? who once accused the Jewish Week of being a “Pravda-like” house organ for the charity ? declined to make any comment on the controversy, except to say that he “is pleased to be given the opportunity to invite [Federation] contributors to read” his paper.
However, indications are that the newspaper controversy continues to split leaders of the philanthropy. The Forward, for instance, quotes one of its former directors, Thomas Tisch, as saying the Federation is “trying to put the Long Island Jewish World out of business.”
“Nobody on the Federation board will say kaddish if that happens,” Tisch told the Forward, referring to the Jewish prayer for the dead. “But I will. I think the Long Island Jewish World has been an institution that has served the needs of the UJA-Federation very well.”
Tisch said the charity ? which in recent years spent about $825,000 annually for the Jewish Week subscriptions ? should extend the choice to other Jewish papers, including the Forward and the Jewish Press, the largest circulation Jewish paper in the metropolitan area.
“They have a sham of ‘choice’ that provides very limited choice, and they are continually trying to prop up the Jewish Week,” Tisch told the Forward.
Despite the cancellation threat, the trial continued to its end on the final week of March.
“The trial is going forward because Mr. Lippman has been very cooperative,” Federation executive vice president Stephen Solender said in a telephone interview. “Once the trial is concluded, the [Federation media] committee will get the data, evaluate it and make a series of recommendations.”
That process should take about three to four months, Solender said.
?( March 3 editions of Jewish World included a small star burst in the flag with the words, “Welcome UJA-Federation contributors!” Publisher Jerome Lippman was told by Federation representative Marvin Singerman that publishing the announcement about the donor option violated “the letter and spirit” of the trial arrangement.) [Photo & Caption]