Recently Departed Editor of the AJN Talks to Galus Australis
Ashley Browne has recently finished a 2.5 year stint as the editor of the Australian Jewish News. Before he joined the AJN team, Ashley had been the managing-editor of Sportal Australia, Australia’s largest sports website publisher. Twenty years earlier, however, he had been part-time sports editor at the AJN. Being the editor of the AJN was always something that he had wanted to do, so when the Jewish News job came up he was excited to take it up.
Then owners, Kathy Shand and Roxanne Dunkel, hired Ashley, but four weeks after he started the job he was told that they were selling the paper. The new owner, Robert Magid wanted to take the paper in a new direction, a direction which has ultimately led to Ashley’s departure from the AJN. We spoke to Ashley soon after he had finished about his thoughts on Australian Jewish media, the AJN, and his departure.
Thoughts on the future of Jewish media in Australia:
AB: I guess Jewish media in Australia is a microcosm of what’s happening in media in general. Putting out a weekly newspaper in the internet era is very difficult and challenging. The readership at the Jewish news is quite elderly. One of the things I tried to do, with some success I think, is take it younger…we did a redesign to freshen it up and make it more visually appealing. It’s very hard, because you’ve got people in their mid-40s who won’t buy the paper because they flick through it at shabbos dinner at their parents’ place. The challenge is to make people buy it.
On the offline / online conundrum
AB: The decision we were constantly facing was that if a big story broke, do we hold it for the paper or do we put it on online, and if so, how much do we put online and how much do we save for the paper? [There was a need to determine] What are the valuable parts of the paper – stuff we wouldn’t put online straight away? For example, I made the decision not to run [online] the features or the letters … or the editorial from the paper until the following Monday, because I wanted to give people a reason to buy the paper. Those are the parts of the paper that are often first read. If those were going online on Thursday morning, there was just no incentive whatsoever to buy the paper.
…And if we put the births, deaths, and marriages online, I’m not sure what it would do to the paper…
On competition with other Jewish media
AB: People are very set in their ways at the Jewish News, and I’m not sure that the Jewish News in a position to move very quickly.
The Jewish blogs are taking off. There’s your website, and there’s one or two others out there now. The challenge for the Jewish News is that it’s so busy working on the news, I’m not sure how well placed it is in the future to lead the discussion of what’s taking place in the community… I’m not sure that the weekly newspaper is as well placed for that as it used to be. Websites like yours are much more flexible, and they can move to a different topic from day to day, whereas the Jewish News can’t necessarily do that.
It’s unlikely [there will ever be a single all-round competitor to the AJN], although some publications will compete for sections of the audience. For example, Heeb, when it comes here, might take away some of the younger readership from the Jewish News. And your website will probably compete for the readers who are slightly more academic or cerebral; and Hamodia might take the Orthodox side of things.
On why he is parting with the AJN:
AB: All I can say is what has already been reported… that the publisher chose to take things in a different direction, and gave me some notice. I’m not privy to what that direction is. Rumours of a major rift between myself and the publisher are not quite true.
We had the sort of differences of opinion that are quite common between a publisher and an editor. The only fundamental issue I’m prepared to discuss is that he wanted more international coverage than I did, and that is fairly common knowledge. In the end I acquiesced, and when we redesigned the paper, we pretty much doubled the world coverage. It’s not how I would have done it, but I was happy to go along with it.
He didn’t hire me, he inherited me… and I think he wants to have his own editor. He’s got the right to do that.
On whether Robert Magid has the desire to make the AJN a mouthpiece for groups such as AIJAC
AB: I don’t know. You only have to look at the Review to know that he is a sponsor of AIJAC… it could well be so, but I have no inside knowledge on that. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but that’s just my own speculation.