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MEDIA What Lies ahead in the 21st Century for the Jewish Press in Europe?

peBy Jonathan Benedek*

In the age of the Internet and social media, news updates arrive instantaneously through the paperless Internet as well as through the diverse array of social media platforms.

“Newspapers find themselves to be in a state with dwindling subscribers,” noted Richard Ferrer, a writer and editor for Britain’s Jewish News publication, to European Jewish Press (EJP). “People are no longer looking at newspapers, so media outlets must focus on providing a product that is more fitting for the next generation.”

Like almost all other media outlets in today’s day and age, Ferrer and his publication had to adapt by complementing printed media with much more novel and contemporary mediums and tools of today’s day and age.

“We are an editorial company that produces around 90% of our content in writing,” he added. “ But we extend our brand with live events and video content, as well as audience participation even though our output is primarily in print.”
But what has apparently stayed constant for Jewish media outlets in Europe is a demand in the market for their content.

“The public has a passion for Jewish news rather than local news, so we are providing a public service,” said Ferrer. “It’s a public service, even for Jews that are completely unaffiliated.

Guido Vitale, an experienced Jewish journalist in Italy, is in full agreement with Ferrer with regards to Jewish media serving a public need and interest.
“In Europe, there exists a market with plenty of people who are interested in the Jewish media,” Vitale told EJP. “There are plenty of people who are not Jewish and who are interested in Jewish media, even in Italy where there are not so many Jewish people.”

According to Vitale, not only is there a market for Jewish media in Europe but there is also an advantage for the Jewish community to invest in Jewish media outlets.

“It is important for Jewish people to communicate with society,” continued Vitale. “It is a neutral place where Jews can communicate with society without having other problems.”

“It is also a place for Jews to offer something unique to society, specifically the opportunity to see the world through Jewish lens,” Vitale added.

In light of the existing demand and the need for Jewish media outlets in Europe, Vitale seized upon the opportunity to transition over from his work in Italy’s general press to the country’s main Jewish media outlet, Pagina Ebraiche (Jewish Pages).

The newspaper, which can be read on Moked, an online portal that provides Jewish information, was launched by the Unione delle Comunita Ebraiche Italiane (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), an umbrella organization representing Italy’s Jewish community. The newspaper’s intended target audience is the non-Jewish community.
Vitale also emphasized what he felt to be a necessity of providing “high quality Jewish media.”

“The professional Jewish journalists work in the regular press because working in Jewish papers for the rest of society is much more complicated,” he added. For that reason, Vitale helps train aspiring journalists who seek to work for the country’s main Jewish media outlet.

Despite the hurdles, Vitale expressed a sense of optimism as he believes that “a bright future could very well exist for Jewish media in Europe.”

Oliver Anisfeld, an undergraduate student from the United Kingdom, is already helping to lay the path of success for “high quality Jewish media” in Europe in the next generation. Anisfeld launched J-TV, a new Jewish media outlet earlier this year that has the appearance of operating as a TV channel on YouTube.
“I saw a big gap in the market,” he told EJP, referring not only to a demand for a Jewish media outlet but an effective one.

“Many outlets haven’t worked in the past because production models were bad since they were just echoing the news stories of the day that people knew anyway.”
The TV channel is aimed at providing much more flavor and spice than a typical news outlet.

“We actually make the news by offering new insights and commentaries through different types of content such as educational panel discussions and debates,” he explained.

But more than just being an informative Jewish media outlet, J-TV is largely aimed at providing the audience with a beautiful and positive perspective on the Jewish ideas and concepts.

“We have a Jewish wisdom sect that shows people in an engaging way, the beauty of Jewish wisdom,” he added. “A Rabbi and Catholic talking about theological disagreements for example, can very often lead the Rabbi participating in the discussion to mention the beautiful ideas in Judaism.”

Unlike Pagina Ebraiche, J-TV is not exclusively targeting a non-Jewish audience but a Jewish audience as well.

“There’s a crisis in Jewish education and some young Jews are feeling negative about being Jewish,” noted Oliver Anisfeld.
“On the political side, we’re showing Jewish people how we’re able to stand up and defend ourselves in public,” he added. In doing so, J-TV will occasionally conduct panel debates between defenders of Israel and critics of Israel such Norman Finkelstein.

“Our channel is not just to serve a gap in the market but mainly to strengthen and create positive Jewish identity,” he stressed.
Jewish media outlets can very well continue to fill an existing gap in Europe’s media market, where there is not only significant demand for reporting on Jewish news but also a demand from European Jews to feel a sense of pride in their identity.

The success of Jewish media outlets will largely depend not only on the professionalism of the likes of Ferrer, Vitale and Anisfeld but also on the level at which the Jewish community answers the media market’s existing call for reporting on Jewish news. The tools for success are there.

*This article was published in the European Jewish Press on December 12, 2016.