Home » Anthony Frosh, Politics and Media

Major Shake-up at the AJN

August 23, 2009 – 10:46 am25 Comments
Source: Voices.com

Source: Voices.com

By Anthony Frosh

Here is another major story of which The Australian Jewish News is yet to inform the community.

At the close of this week the AJN and its national editor, Ashley Browne, will part ways.

Speculation abounds that Browne’s departure relates to the heavy-handed editorial direction of Robert Magid, who acquired the AJN in mid 2007.  Magid has apparently been trying to take the AJN in a more conservative direction, aligning it with the more right wing Zionist organisations in the community. In contrast to Browne, Magid also prefers foreign content to local news.

This seems to be in contrast to Magid’s stated intention at the time of purchasing the AJN , when he claimed that “every element of the community’s voice” would be represented in the newspaper (The Australian, July 28, 2007.)

If this is the case, this would seem to be the second time this year that an owner of a well known Australian niche publication and their editor have parted ways over editorial position.  We refer to events that took place earlier this year at The Monthly, where owner Morry Schwartz and former editor Sally Warhaft fell out, apparently partly over Schwartz’s refusal to run a piece by Peter Costello in response to this essay by Kevin Rudd.

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25 Comments »

  • Bulldog says:

    View from a different angle in http://ajnwatch.blogspot.com/
    (They’re almost taking credit for this sacking!)

    Another Jewish News editor bites the dust…
    Who caused this? “Hamodia’ or ‘AJN Watch’…?

    >>>Ashley Browne, the current editor of the Australian Jewish News will oversee his last edition of the national Jewish weekly paper next week.

    The 44-yr-old Melbourne-based newspaperman has spent the last two and a half years as its editor. He told J-Wire: ”It has been a privilege to have worked as editor of the AJN and I have enjoyed my time here. I wish the incoming editor and all the AJN staff the very best for the future.

    Browne told J-Wire that he did not know who the knew editor would be but there may be a possibility that the position might be taken up by an overseas contender.
    ============================

    While few will be surprised to see Browne being let go, it is a fact that the AJN goes through editors like a losing footy club goes through coaches.
    We can’t remember all of them but some recent editorial has-beens include (in no particular order) Sam Lipski, Deborah Stone, David Bernstein, Vic Alhadeff, Dan Goldberg, Susan Bures and now Ashley Browne.

    Let’s see what the AJN management comes up with next.

  • Jon says:

    I understand the reason Warhaft resigned from The Monthly was more over personality issues with Robert Manne, and issues over control over publication. The reply from Costello was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there was no real ideological reason why Warhaft resigned.

  • Chook says:

    What, the AJN is going to be more conservative? Does that mean the new editor will be Michael Burd?

  • frosh says:

    Hi Jon,

    My understanding is that you may well be right. We were a bit sloppy with our editing of that final paragraph – we were rushing to get to Howard Goldenberg’s book (that we have been promoting on Galus with a couple of excerpts) launch on-time, and thus were a little rushed yesterday morning. The word “partly”, amongst a few other elements, accidentally got omitted from the final paragraph in the editing process.

  • Almoni says:

    I have opened a book for the AJN national editorship: please add your bets (dead or alive) for applications that pass over the publisher’s desk

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 1000/1
    Namoi Klein 850 /1
    Gideon Levey 800/1
    Trotsky 799/1

    Ahad Ha-am 700/1

    Judah Magnes 500/1
    Jason Koutsoukis 499/1

    Jeremiah 9/1

    Alan Dershowitz 5/1
    Michael Burd 4/1
    Moshe Feiglin 3/1
    Andrew Bolt 2/1

  • Chook says:

    Hey, Mr./Mrs. Galus, thanks for that little icon thing next to my comment, it’s really me.

  • Chook says:

    And while on the subject of the AJN I have been trying to register myself for comments, but it’s damn near impossible. Could someone from the AJN please make it easlier; I mean, I have so much to say.

  • ashley pinke says:

    Ajn blog is strongly censored. I posted some AJN Watch comments there recently and although they first appeared – it was removed shortly thereafter.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Almoni,

    A book on who will be the new editor is arguably worth a new article on its own :-)

  • frosh says:

    Hi Chook,

    You can customize your icon (as some people on here have done, including me) by going to gravatar.com

    Sorry to hear of your tzures in trying to leave a comment on AJN, but it doesn’t surprise us. You will not have any such problems here at Galus Australis.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi Jon,

    Although Manne and Schwartz tried to claim that there were no ideological reasons for the acrimonious departure of Warhaft, Gideon Haigh argued strongly, and to my mind convincingly, otherwise. Perhaps though, a better description for the impetus for Warhaft’s departure would have been that they parted ways over ‘editorial control’ rather than ‘editorial position.’

  • Talk about relative! I get pissed off seeing ads for treif places every week in the AJN (although I understand why they are there), and people on here complain how right wing it is!

    As I’ve stated before, they are in the business of selling newspapers (and advertising). So they print what (the think) sells.

    We might be making more of this “story” than there is …

  • Gambler says:

    Almoni,

    Do you have any odds for Adam Kamien?

    (Kamien is the current Sports editor and writer of the Shmooze column. Apparently he found this instance of sexual abuse amusing – http://ajnwatch.blogspot.com/2009/08/seriously-injured-10-year-old-gives.html )

  • rachsd says:

    Hi David,

    The apparent change in direction is not related to any conservative religious agenda, but rather a conservative agenda on Israeli politics. It is quite possible to be right-wing on issues relating to Israel and continue to be secular. Rumour has it that Magid wants to include more foreign content and less local content. I seriously doubt that this has anything to do with what sells. Indeed I also seriously doubt that the AJN have done any market research, and therefore doubt that they have any basis upon which to decide what sells in any case.

  • ariel says:

    I have long since refrained from reading the AJN, unless my photo is in it ;p

    It is just another newspaper which prints articles on issues it thinks the community wants to know about rather than printing pieces which might stimulate the mind.

    I recall one letter writer a number of years ago asking whether the AJN should publish items of interest to Jews or items of a Jewish interest.

    I have a friend who buys the English language version of Hamodia and it is a far more interesting read than the AJN.

  • Rachel,

    Maybe this is being driven by cost? or the success of the local version of Hamodia?

    The last time I saw the AJN do market research was when they asked their readership what they thought of the redesign, a week after it was done! I still can’t find the Shabbat times!

  • rachsd says:

    Hi David,

    Well it will certainly be cheaper to use more syndicated foreign and less local content, but I would imagine that the readership would only decrease, particularly amongst people who know how to use the internet.

    I believe that it is difficult to make money from newspapers these days, although the AJN do charge quite a considerable cover price, have a fair bit of advertising, and few staff.

    I also can’t imagine that the AJN would be a significant source of profit for Magid so wouldn’t think that profit would be the main / only motivating factor.

    In The Australian article that is linked above, written when Magid took over the AJN, there is something about him wanting to change the tone of the paper to make it more Zionist. (Although in that article he says that this won’t involve any major changes and the paper will remain a voice for all members of the community.

    I’d also be surprised if Hamodia had much to do with this – I would think that the market for Hamodia would constitute only a small proportion of the potential AJN market.

    Having said all that, you might be right – if the AJN is making a loss, and Magid is not particularly interested in the local (and more expensive) aspect of the paper, it would make sense for him to drop it. (Most decisions are motivated by multiple factors in any case.) He might find though that it’s not a clever business idea because I would think that if anything the local stories would be of more interest than the syndicated JPost content to a fair amount of readers.

  • Gary Mallin says:

    I am a former sports editor of The Australian Jewish News (under Sam Lipski) and a former reporter under Hans Licht, back in the Abbotsford days. I reckon I should be considered in any betting market for the editorship of the AJN. What odds, please?

    I, as do many others, have my criticisms of the AJN, but I wonder whether all this could be channelled into trying to make it a true voice of the Jewish community. Got any ideas?

  • Almoni says:

    Because you outed yourself, 6/1

    Only a liberal minded proprietor + editor will change the paper, plus competition–another newspape–or other multimedia source that takes away revenue.

    But what’s a ‘true voice’. I doubt there is such a thing in any newspaper…what about ‘a quality & diverse voice’?

  • frosh says:

    Gary,

    As sports editor, would you describe yourself as having been pro-water polo?

  • frosh says:

    Hi Almoni,

    You mentioned “a quality & diverse voice.”

    That is exactly what Galus Australis is striving for.

    Unfortunately, Galus Australis does not at this time have the financial resources to operate as a newspaper, and is limited to being an online magazine. In all likelihood, it will never have those kind of resources.

    Funding is the biggest determinant of the type of media we end up. Even though, through advertising, a newspaper might be able to fund itself, it takes considerable funds (and some risk) to get one off the ground and up to the stage where it is bringing in enough revenue to fund itself.

    The way that media entities are run typically reflects the will of those who own/fund them. Unless there is going to be some very wealthy patron who comes along and is happy to strive for real diversity (needless to say, this is very rare – most owners/patrons will want to push editorial position in a certain direction, and that is their prerogative), perhaps we need to explore the possibility of community ownership.

    However, even under a community ownership model, there may always be people with more influence than others, and you may just end up with an media entity that is just a mouth piece for (or at least under the tight control of) the community leadership, such as ECAJ.

    I don’t have the answers yet, but there’s some food for thought.

  • The Hasid says:

    I have a feeling that the AJN will cease to exist as a print publication within the next 10 years, as will many other smaller, niche publications. Overheads are too expensive, printing lots of newspapers is bad for the environment, ALL of the international content can be sourced for free from the original sources, and facebook is slowly but surely replacing the hatches, matches and dispatches page. (Well, maybe not the dispatches!)

    What the AJN needs to do is really embrace and expand upon its online presence. The new site is an improvement but still pretty lackluster. Like Chook, I’ve found it impossible to register and post comments. The letters are not updated online til mid-week (5 or 6 days following publication on Thursday). You also can’t read the lead and feature articles online. This is presumably an incentive to buy the print edition, but it is also lame: the website can’t function properly (and attract advertisers) if they aren’t gonna give us the good stuff online.

    Basically, they need to put all their eggs in the e-basket. It’s the way of the future. Unfortunately, it means that Shabbos observant families will no longer have the pleasure of reading out the ridiculous baby names at the Shabbos table (Jaxson Nimrod Himmelman and Coco Faige Goldstein*, anyone?). Unless they remember to print out the announcements page before Shabbos starts! :)

    … Actually, there could be a downloadable PDF version for those who would like to print out a complete copy, or simply certain sections. (Useful for those who are only interested in the local content / sport / social pages, and older family members who aren’t great with computers/internet.) This is easy enough to do technology-wise, and most people would probably be willing to pay an annual subscription fee to do so – say, $50? It would be a great source of revenue for the paper (in addition to paid ads) and cheaper than the exorbitant cost of the paper at the moment.

    p.s. Gary, you get my vote for editor!

    * Names are made up, but I guarantee you I’VE SEEN WORSE.

  • frosh says:

    Hasid,

    Robert Magid should be paying you a consultancy fee. You’ve outlined a very sensible strategy to maintain a viable business model in the future.

  • Shabbos Goy says:

    I’d have to disagree with frosh – and to a certain extent Hasid.

    I’ve worked in niche publishing for over 20 years so I’m currently embroiled in the online versus print conundrum.

    Putting all the AJN eggs into the e-basket sounds good in theory, but as with most newspapers, a total online presence would result in an advertising revenue loss of between 80-90 per cent.

    Not to mention the whole “pay for content” problem (and subsequent loss of subscriber revenue).

    So – how does the AJN pay its journos?

    By far the biggest overhead in a newspaper operation is staff salaries. Paper and print bills and distribution costs are less than 10 per cent of out goings. And of course, staff overheads remain much the same whether content is being generated for online or print.

    The only way that revenue can be increased online is by increasing the number of visitors, and thus charging more for advertising – and frankly there are not enough Jews in Australia to get the visits an online presence would need to charge enough to cover costs.

    The answer must be out there somewhere – certainly Fairfax and News are desperately trying to find a way to maintain revenue now that the classified rivers of gold have dried to a trickle.

    I think we all agree that Jewish Australians, like other community groups need a news source of some description – not just to report on the convoluted machinations of community organisations, but also to share the hatch, match and despatch notices on a Friday evening.

    I’m sure the AJN would welcome any suggestions.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Shabbos Goy,

    There is no doubt that what you say about advertising revenues is currently true. Advertising rates for online ads are far less than advertising rates for printed ads, at least in general.

    The problem with hard copy newspapers is that the younger generations are not buying them like the older generations used to. This is true for the AJN, and it is true for the less niche newspapers as well.

    The baby-boomers are probably less likely these days to have newspaper subscription than “the greatest” generation are/were. Certainly, generation-X is less likely than baby-boomers, and gen-Y less likely again. In fact, most members of generation-Y can’t really remember what it was like when you had to pay for news content (you can possibly add recorded music and other media content into the mix).

    I think the weekly PDF print out idea is a nice compromise between online and hardcopy. It would particularly suit a Jewish newspaper where a significant proportion of the readership would want a shabbos-compatible version. Furthermore, I imagine that ad space on a printed PDF document could be sold at rates closer to regular hardcopy rates, rather than the currently far lower online rates. Plus,I think it is something that readers might be more likely to pay a cover price for a well-formated PDF version than they would simply to access a newspaper’s website, although I haven’t done the market reasearch on that (just a guess).

    Anwyay, it’s good to have your industry-insider input on this. It is a serious problem facing the newspaper and (to a lesser extent) the magazine industry. Even Rupert Murdoch is struggling with this conundrum.

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