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Australian Jewish media – where to from here?

June 24, 2009 – 9:15 am15 Comments

By Parrogan

I. Aligning oneself with the AJN

Are you well-served by our national Jewish newspaper, one of the oldest continuously published rags in the history of Australian newspapers, miraculously plodding forth into an age where print and paper are ultimately to be as obsolete as horse and cart? Do you appreciate a direct line to and into the Australian Jewish community, and an opportunity to communicate with and advertise directly to this niche audience?

The Australian Jewish News, what do you think about it? Are you frustrated with syndicated news content you’ve already read on Jpost, Haaretz or Ynet? Is it like transcribed Shabbos-table banter mixed in with the sort of society gossip you might overhear half in Yiddish in what passes for a queue at Haymishe?

II. A tree falls in the forest, and there’s no-one to hear it fall

Whatever you think of the AJN, you might want to consider that it is the sum total of our Australian Jewish media. As much as it’s attacked or defended, the AJN should be recognised as the singularity it represents – everything we do, say or think somehow ends up there, even if it’s distorted, rewritten, inflated or conflated, it’s still representative of what’s going on in the community at large.

The AJN is no different to any other newspaper running in a vacuum – there’s nothing else to compete with, and it can print what it likes – how can anyone blame them for sensationalising everything within an inch of its life, when the only backlash is on its own letters pages?

When The Age screws up, The Australian is the first on the scene, and vice-versa. That, we take for granted. It’s not quite the same situation, but it begs one more question – if the AJN is so insufficient (and I’m not convinced that it is), why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?

III. Working towards environmental sustainability

The obvious answer is the small market and huge amount of money involved – nobody has the cash for a risky, advertising-driven media venture in this day and age – but that’s not where the buck stops.

The real reason no-one has successfully established an enduring communal mouthpiece, in any form, is because we can’t handle it – all the accusations with which we tar and feather the AJN are reflections of our own headspaces.

My theory is that we’re so used to reading about ourselves in black and white, and paying cursory, syndicated attention to the rest of the Jewish world, we couldn’t possibly conceptualise, let alone sustain a alternate (read: not ‘alternative’) media outlet.

Still, I’d like to be proven wrong, and here are a few thoughts to that end.

IV. Breakin’ out of da ghetto

In order to broaden the Australian Jewish media landscape – not raze and replace the AJN – we need to think outside the shtetl, look to foreign lands, and do something new. Some cool things have been happening in the US, as far as Jewish media goes, since the first run of the Forward.

Over the past few years, Heeb magazine has long offered an alternative, secularist perspective, laced with humour, sex and irreverence. Meanwhile, those seeking something more highbrow could check out Nextbook, which evolved into something more highbrow again, Nextbook’s latest incarnation, Tabletmag.

In South Africa, someone thought a more conservative approach need be taken, and so the rather heimische Jewish Life magazine was born, full of potted Hassidus, soul-feeding recipes and inspirational tales; all glossy, with top-notch advertising, of course. This doesn’t seem to take away from the firm ground held by the staid, Joburg-based, South African Jewish Report.

In other communities, the media revolution has taken the form of a blog – in Argentina, they have STAM!; in Hungary, they have Judapest.

Now in Australia, we have the Sensible Jew.

Where it all goes from here depends on where you, the people who have been paying attention to the Sensible Jew beyond its initial blow-up, want it to go. Or maybe you don’t think there’s room, or a need for anything more than what you’re reading right now.

Speak up! I’m all ears.

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  • HearSay says:

    Again, the variety of Jewish representative bodies, and their relevant media (Heeb, Jewcy, PresenTense, etc.) either religious or geographic, within the vast landscape of the United States, is hardly comparable to the Australian Jewish community.
    (I say ‘Australian’ because as I’ve noticed, this site is heavy on Melbourne-centric conversation – but more on this later)

    Unfortunately for the Australian Jew, the problem is not in traditional censorship, but in the more pragmatic, less malicious censorship of a lack of public funding for new media, including but not limited to newspapers and magazines.

    As someone who has on a number of occasions looked to the Jewish community (across Australia) to raise capital to initiate an independent, unaffiliated, unreservedly honest Jewish publication, I have found little or no interest.

    The cynic in me says “that’s because they want their name on the cover”, “they want to claim the magazine as their private mouthpiece” or “they don’t want any competition, lest it become the preferred or higher considered mouthpiece of the Australian Jewish Community …”

    And while I see that the paranoia of these ideas is, in fact, quite seriously paranoid, it is the last that rings the most true for me – but not for the reason you may think.

    Sure – we have our Pratts and Lowys, but the quality and highly diversified American Jewish Media is not alone a result of those philanthropists willing to put a little money where someone else’s mouth is.

    Rather, the issue at large is the structure of the Australian Jewish community. It is the relatively young nature of the Jewish community as a Federal body, and the limited connection, geographically, religiously and perhaps even ideologically, of the disparate Jewish communities around Australia (and if you are so inclined, New Zealand). It is the extreme differences between the communities, as evidenced by the comments regarding your post on the Melbourne-centric abundance of Jewish day schools, and the ACT’s severe (but understandable) lack there of.

    Which is why so much free media is being utilised to not only avoid the need for capital to change hands (and in some cases, independence with it), but also to directly target the issues related to a particular area.

    I commend you for starting this blog, and it serves as an interesting experiment in media ‘democracy’ – but isn’t it clear that this site, (not for lack of trying or capability) is not Australia-wide in it’s focus? I do not dispute the relevance of Melbourne as one of the largest Jewish communities in the country – but it is a little shortsighted to overlook the limited nature of this, or any blogs scope in addressing the tru concerns of Australians the country over.

  • Malki says:

    HearSay, you are spot on. However I would suggest that perhaps the reason for the rather Melbourne-centric focus on this blog may come down to ‘who is choosing to speak up’. I believe this blog is intended as a forum for discussion on Australian Jewish issues. Therefore the focus will come from those who post here. And if issues affecting Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra do not comprise the bulk of the discussion, we must ask ourselves why.
    It could be that Sydney is not as dissatisfied with the status quo as we are here in Melbourne. It could be that individuals in other states are more apathetic or cynical. Or it could simply be that they have yet to comment on this blog and create a focus on issues which affect Jewish Communities in other cities.

    I, for one, would love to hear/read from others on the issues affecting Jewish communities across Australia.

  • paroggan says:

    HearSay and Malki, I’m with you both. That’s why the post wasn’t location-centric.

    A few things I wanted to raise:

    HearSay: What is the value of discounting any overseas inspiration for an Australian Jewish publication, simply because, by population, the Jewish presence in Australia is a drop in the ocean of the US community?

    I see this as an unnecessarily self-deprecating point of view, and the consequent line of thought on the unavailability of funding via the establishment, while absolutely true, is also overly pessimistic.

    This is precisely why I included the examples of Judapest and Stam! As far as I’m aware, these blogs, while clearly not as developed as Tabletmag, occupy a vital place in their respective communities, and receive little or not funding from anyone, and neither of them serve particularly large Jewish populations.

    There’s nothing wrong with ‘free media’. Of course, in order to sustain itself, any media outlet needs to generate some income. That said, once you can demonstrate a demand, it’s easier to approach investors.

    Meanwhile, I wholeheartedly agree with your assertions about the disunity of the Australian Jewish community, and by extension, the palpable lack of connection we have with the one across the Tasman in Kiwi land.

    I reckon this is largely the result of our singular national mouthpiece and bulletin board having insufficient space or advertising support to cover anything more than the main happenings from the main Jewish population centres.

    And that’s where blogs and low-overhead online mags come into their own — approach an investor with a solid electronic publishing model, complete with guaranteed ad revenue, and missing those mammoth printing costs, and you’re far more likely to see some cash than if you want to launch something slick and glossy.

  • A Good Eye says:

    Parragon, you write:
    > Are you frustrated with syndicated news content you’ve already read on Jpost, Haaretz or Ynet?

    If you look closely, you will notice that the AJN actually doesn’t syndicate anything from the left leaning haaretz, which is published in Hebrew for a mostly secular audience. The vast bulk of its Israeli news stories come from the right leaning JPOST publication, which is a paper that is written for a diaspora or anglo oleh audience. From JPOST, they also choose to publish more right wing columnists (such a lesie susser) then left wing ones (such as Gershon Baskin).

    In regards to the way they report on Israel, I think it would be more correct to call the paper AIJAC news.

  • amicus says:

    The interview with Yvonne Fein in this week’s AJN raises a number of important questions.
    First, it may be observed that despite criticising the AJN in its blog, SJ is happy to use it as a vehicle for its own publicity.
    More serious, however, is YF’s attempt to justify her co-blogger’s anonymity. It is difficult to see how a blog which trumpets the importance of openness and transparency can maintain this position. In order to appraise an opinion it is important to know whether the writer has any preconceived views, prejudices or conflicts of interest. That is simply not possible where the writer remains anonymous. Would any reputable newspaper allow a serious columnist to publish anonymously? Would SJ accept that the publisher of a newspaper not be required to reveal their identity. Unless SJ comes clean on the identity of those who stand behind it will lack the credibility it needs to survive and make any real impact.

  • Jon says:

    An interesting post.

    I for one am frustrated, by what appears at times, to be the narrow and at times, low brow nature of the AJN. I would agree that the AJN also too heavily syndicates from certain sources, most notably from the right-leaning JPost, rather then say Haaretz.

    I very much doubt, however, that the Australian jewish market is sufficiently large to justify a second newspaper or even a jewish magazine. A jewish magazine was tried and tested for a number of years with the Generation magazine, which whilst an excellent publication, ultimately is not published anymore. It seems to me that a feasible, supplement to the AJN is blogs like these, which are obviously far cheaper to run then the costs associated with a paper publication.

    Primarily, I think the quality of the AJN itself is what needs to be improved, which is not an easy thing to do. A start could be to allow different, new and intelligent voices on its opinion section, such as some of the voices on this blog. Secondly, they should cover events more fully, not superfically. For example, Limmud Oz in Sydney was covered extremely superfically by the AJN – from having been there. Even some of the summaries of the sessions that they did provide coverage of did not cover the talks with any depth. The AIJAC sponsored ‘media watch’section also annoys me – I’m not interested in cheap, formulaic digs at the media.

    Lastly, it seems to me all too often the AJN has a certain pre-conception of how the jewish community thinks and tries to deliver the content of the paper in terms of that pre-conception. My problem is that I’m not sure if that preconception is correct.

  • sensiblejew says:

    Hi Amicus.

    Please point to instances in which we have been critical of the AJN. Some of our commenters may have expressed concern; however, comments do not reflect editorial positions.

    Nor have we sought publicity from the AJN. Peter Kohn contacted Yvonne Fein and asked to interview her. All previous mention of us was done without our participation. And yes, we are very happy to appear in the pages of the AJN.

    Regarding the ethics of my anonymity: firstly, I do not, nor have I ever claimed to represent anyone. Accusations of a lack of transparency are therefore a furphy in this context.

    Secondly, you may be unfamiliar with the blogging world. The blogging world is not the same as the print media. It is very common for bloggers not to use their names. I don’t write for the print media, nor do I edit a print media publication.

    As for credibility and survival, only time – and page views – will tell.

  • michael says:

    Jon said
    June 25, 2009 at 2:09 pm



  • sensiblejew says:

    Michael, do not use all-caps. Online, it is similar to screaming.

  • Jon says:


    Did not say that the AJN should “only” source from Haaretz, but questioned why it seems to source so much from the JPost, rather then say Haaretz. I wouldn’t want the AJN in its international section to only source from Haaretz, but should source from a number of news outlets.

    As for reading Fairfax publications in relation to Israel, I don’t recall the last time I bothered reading them – why read what’s happening in Israel in an Australian paper, when I can read the Israeli press online?

  • paroggan says:

    Good point Jon, the AJN should probably lose a little Israel coverage and add a little local depth — most of us do read the Israeli press online, and it’s of little use to read it reprinted elsewhere.

    Amicus, seconding SJ, I can assure you that no-one is being unduly critical of the AJN. As part of the community that comprises its readership, pays for its printing and justifies its ad rates, we are discussing, in essence, our relationship with the paper.

    As for SJ’s anonymity, there have been so many famous cases of ongoing pseudonyms in all areas of written endeavour, that whether or not SJ should be unmasked doesn’t really bear further attention.

    Moreover, there’s no relevance who SJ is, as the written word speaks for itself, regardless of who penned it, especially when, in all likelihood identifying yourself would simply allow everyone to call your bias and stop taking you seriously.

    Not that I’m suggesting anyone would get petty…

  • michael says:

    Sorry about caps Mistake..

    So we now have enough critics of the AJN to form a Editorial committee if the AJN Editors are doing such a lousy job why don’t all you experts get together and start a opposition paper called ”Jewish Left wing Weekly” …..should be no problem getting finance there are plenty of wealthy Jews listed on IAJV web site..Rothfields, Richters & ors.

  • frochel says:

    Hi Jon,

    You’ll have to excuse Michael, he likes to accuse people of stating things they haven’t actually stated. But still, we love him anyway.

    We agree with you on some of the deficiencies of the AJN, and you made a very good point about the oddity of AIJAC having a weekly column (A Good Eye also alludes to the questionable synergism between AJN and AIJAC).

    However, we also feel that the AJN does fulfil a role in the community, e.g. social notices, AJAX/Maccabi football, cricket, basketball, ‘futbol’ (or as they like to call it, soccer); but for whatever reasons, not water polo, much to our displeasure. Women’s sport also plays second fiddle, but that’s for another post. We must confess that we like reading the AJN on Friday night after shabbos dinner, if just to stimulate some topics of conversation.

    But we digress….we feel the solution does not lie in improving the AJN. There seems to be a large audience in the community who like the AJN pretty much the way it is. We feel that an alternative publication is required for the significant section of the community that would like a media entity that examines local issues more critically, and features more in depth cultural analysis. We agree with you that due to costs, this would need to be an online entity, rather than a publication that makes use of dead trees.

  • H.T. says:

    Were it not for the AJN’s birth announcements, my family and I would not have laughing fits lasting over an hour from such gems as “Jaxon”, “Kandy” and “Brock”. No offence meant if you find your kid’s name here.

  • frochel says:

    We love it too H.T.

    Some of our favourites include “Cruz” and “Jet.”

    We look forward to seeing such names in the future as “Posh”, “iPod”, “Sonic”, “Twitter”, “Obama”, or “Wii.”

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