By: Mark Fitzgerald
Independent Jewish publisher in bitter row
with charity-subsidized paper in New York area sp.
A LONG-SIMMERING JEWISH newspaper war on Long Island, N.Y., is boiling over after a three-month public campaign by an independent Jewish paper against a rival weekly that receives hefty subsidies from the biggest Jewish charity in New York.
In a series of editorials, advertisements and mailings to Jewish community leaders, Long Island Jewish World says it and other independent Jewish papers face extinction because of an enormous advantage that rival New York Jewish Week gets from the charity’s financial muscle and 80,000-person contributor list.
UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies pays Jewish Week $825,000 annually for subscriptions and mails the newspaper to anyone who contributes more than $36 to the charity, which is the 18th-largest in the nation, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Slightly more than 80,000 households get the paper through their contributions.
Further, Jewish World suggests darkly that its subsidized rival is working aggressively to discourage advertisers from buying space in the Jewish World and is playing fast and loose with postal regulations to keep its second-class mailing status.
The campaign by Jewish World publisher and editor in chief Jerome William Lippman and his wife, Naomi, the paper’s editor, has been supported by other independent Jewish papers in the New York area.
For example, in its Nov. 19 issue, the Forward, published in Brooklyn, N.Y., called on the UJA-Federation to “level the field by establishing a checkoff system under which contributors . . . could indicate which Jewish newspaper, if any, they want.”
And during the summer, the Jewish Press, also based in Brooklyn, suggested in an editorial that Jews should withhold contributions to the charity until the controversy about subsidizing the Jewish Week was solved. (Rabbi Sholom Klass, the paper’s publisher, later backed away from the boycott call.)
The increasingly public furor, which even has been the subject of a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, is expected to be discussed Wednesday at a meeting of the UJA-Federation board of directors.
In an open letter to the board published in the Nov. 19 issue of the Jewish World, the Lippmans repeated an argument that they have been making on their editorial page since early September.
“It is neither fair nor correct that UJA-Federation supports one Jewish newspaper to the detriment of others. We want UJA-Federation out of the newspaper business, a role that has nothing to do with its philanthropic role,” they wrote.
In an interview, Mr. Lippman said the subsidies especially are unfair to the Jewish World because his paper’s independent journalism has done much to support the UJA-Federation specifically and Jewish community involvement in general.
“The irony is that having brought that person . . . into Jewish communal life ? and possibly having interested that person for the first time in UJA ? every person like that we attract to UJA automatically becomes a subscriber to Jewish Week. And the common answer to us becomes, If we [new UJA contributors] are getting a paper for free, why should we pay?” Lippman said.
The battle in New York is the latest opening of a wound in Jewish newspaper journalism that never quite seems to heal: The conflict, repeated throughout the country, between independent papers and those subsidized by UJA-Federation charities.
Two basic questions arise: Do these subsidies affect news coverage and should charitable contributions intended for the Jewish community bankroll newspapers in areas where Jewish papers exist?
Lippman, in fact, was president of the American Jewish Press Association the last time that a conflict between UJA-Federation and independent papers went public. That 1984 dispute involved papers in Los Angeles as well as New York (E&P, July 21, 1984, p. 11).
This latest conflict, then, has a history ? a history that fuels emotions on both sides.
“The case that Long Island Jewish World is making is based on falsehoods,” said Conrad Berke, associate publisher and advertising director of the subsidized Jewish Week.
Berke said the Lippmans are being hypocritical when they say the Jewish Week is trying to destroy their paper.
“Look, the fact is the Lippmans and Long Island Jewish World went into business with the expectation that they would put the Jewish Week out of business” on Long Island, Berke said.
“Now what they want,” he continued, “is to grab off the names. They want the (UJA-Federation) subscriber list. They want it in their grubby little fists.” Berke added that there is nothing unusual about the Jewish Week’s relationship with UJA-Federation.
“They say it’s not fair for UJA to have its own newspaper. Why not? The American Medical Association has its own newspaper. It’s called the Journal of the American Medical Association,” Berke said.
Jewish Week is a non-profit corporation under New York law and while it gets an annual $825,000 subsidy from the UJA/Federation, it returns all excess income to the charity, Berke said. He declined to specify what amounts have been returned in recent years except to describe them as “substantial.”
But the Jewish Week’s critics, including some inside UJA/Federation leadership, say the newspaper is trying to have it both ways: Being a non-profit entity to win UJA/Federation dollars and subscribers but acting as a private newspaper when it battles independent papers for advertisers.
Berke said the UJA/Federation “controls” the Jewish Week. However, the newspaper has a board of directors; several of the board’s members overlap with members of the UJA-Federation board.
UJA-Federation executive director Steven Solender emphasized the newspaper’s independence.
“They control their own editorial policy. They make all their own business decisions. They control their destiny,” Solender said.
Clearly, though, the newspaper depends on the UJA/Federation: The philanthropy controls the mailing list and does not share it with the Jewish Week or, for that matter, any other publication or organization.
The Jewish Week has strong supporters and some adamant detractors inside the UJA/Federation.
Enough controversy has been generated by the paper that in 1991, the UJA/Federation formed a “media committee” to examine what relationship the charity should have with the newspaper.
In February 1992, the committee recommended that the UJA/Federation institute a checkoff system in which the Jewish Week would be only one of several Jewish newspapers that contributors could choose to receive.
The recommendation went no-where, however.
“This business about the media committee has been overblown,” Solender said. “There have been many media committees . . . . There are constant discussions about whether we could purchase subscriptions more economically or reduce the cost of providing the service.”
Solender said the checkoff idea may be discussed at the Dec. 1 meeting.
“The fact is, however, that as of now, this is a very economical way to reach our contributors,” he said.
On Long Island, meanwhile, the dispute has all the characteristics of a no-holds-barred newspaper war.
“It is quite frankly a newspaper war now,” said the UJA-Federation activist who insisted on anonymity. “And I think it will reflect poorly on UJA-Federation because it is obviously choosing sides.”
Lippman said the Jewish Week clearly acts as a competitive newspaper in his market.
He said Jewish Week salespeople disparage his circulation, citing postal statements in saying it is only about 8,000. In fact, Lippman said, mail subscription is about 11,000. Bulk sales to synagogues and other Jewish centers plus free distribution from other Jewish-oriented sites brings the total to an average of about 26,000, according to the paper’s latest postal statement.
Lippman also accused Berke of targeting Jewish World advertisers so aggressively that a few have withdrawn from Jewish newspapers altogether.
“They are using the charity’s good name to sell advertising,” Lippman said.
For his part, Berke said the Jewish Week is only pointing out obvious weaknesses at the Jewish World.
He noted, for example, that the Jewish Week’s circulation is audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
“Jewish Week is ABC-audited. The other papers ? all of them, with no exceptions ? are unaudited . . . . So how good a job is [Jewish World] really doing of selling? . . . . Without an audit, you know the tricks you can do,” Berke said.
And far from cutting its advertising prices, the Jewish Week is the most expensive because of its large circulation, he added.
The Jewish Week’s rivals have suggested that the newspaper takes unfair advantage of postal rates.
The Forward, for instance, said in an editorial that the UJA/Federation’s $825,000 was paying for subscriptions that were discounted below 50%.
In addition, Lippman in a Jan. 7 letter to Jewish community leaders said the Jewish Week gets around Postal Service zoning replating requirements by mailing under five separate permits.
“They don’t change 25% of the paper. They have never, never changed 25% of the paper,” Lippman said.
More “falsehoods,” Berke said. “We follow the postal regulations. Each of the five Jewish Weeks gets audited by post offices every year.”
The Jewish Week has undergone major changes recently. Gary Rosenblatt ? described recently in Moment, a Jewish magazine, as “the hottest Jewish editor in the country” ? was brought in as the new editor. The paper was redesigned in August and has been covering local news aggressively, including such events as births, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
This success ensures the UJA-Federation of getting out its message far better than relying on the privately owned papers, Berke said.
Lippman vehemently disagrees.
“I wonder what would happen if the charity decided to open a construction business, with the argument that it’s the most efficient way to build Federation offices. How would construction businesspeople in the Jewish community feel about that?”
?(In a recent edition, Long Island Jewish World ran a full-page ad saying the UJA-Federation “should not be in the newspaper business by giving the New York Jewish Week $825,000 a year.”) [Caption]