Without a strong JTA, the storytelling will be left to bloggers, twitterers, and non-professionals.

Is this the best way for our future Jewish stories to be told and recorded?

The preceding was quoted from a mass fund raising email sent out by the President of the JTA, Elisa Spungen Bildner. As can be expected (duh!), the Jewish blogosphere did not take too kindly to the implication that “Jewish storytelling” was somehow diminished in their hands.

Leah Jones, who I met and befriended thanks to blogging wrote:

I have no relationship with the JTA and unless a retraction is posted quickly, this email guarantees that I will never have one. The JTA is one of the news services for the Jewish community and they have put a stake in the ground that a blogger has no right to tell the Jewish story

Dan Brown of eJewishPhilanthropy (the first to blog on this issue) noted:

Considering that the JTA has professional staff who blog and twitter, both for the JTA and privately, and considering all the communal professionals who also engage in the use of new media, one wonders what the JTA is even thinking with such a comment.

Steven Ira Weiss, a pioneer of the Jewish blogosphere was scathing in his rebuke of the JTA:

While Spungen Bildner’s disdain for new media producers can perhaps be attributed to the fact that these efforts by JTA to recruit new media producers into making them relevant have thus far failed (as of this writing, the most recent posts to Kavod are 11 days old, and JBlogs seems to produce no noticeable traffic), it’s nonetheless truly galling to see JTA speaking out of both sides of its mouth in this manner… Like some old-school Jewish organization raising funds with a list of anti-Semitic activity, JTA is hoping to preserve itself by reaching out to potential donors with a list of the media produced by Jewish youth… Instead of making itself relevant enough to Jewish audiences to gain enough advertising and subscription revenue to survive (something that Gawker has achieved in a fraction of the time that the hundred-year-old JTA has been around) JTA is pleading for those who haven’t yet caught on to the changes afoot in today’s media landscape to subsidize them a bit longer. As every other media organization struggling with the transition is looking for ways to embrace new media, pare down and develop new and real revenue streams, JTA is hunkering down, insulting new media and asking for a bailout from moneyed older Jews.

Even Dan Sieradski, the JTA’s Director of Digital Media and founder of Jewschool distanced himself from the fund raising letter in, ironically enough, a tweet that read “agrees entirely that today’s JTA membership email was ill-advised and has made it known to the powers that be.”

Finally, you can always expect Esther Kustanowitz to be the calm voice of reason, and she didn’t disappoint when she concluded her blog post on the topic as follows:

If you ask me, the news, personal reflections or opinions that resonate with people who blog or Tweet or Digg or Facebook message are becoming – as much as any piece of current news or element of our written history – a vital part of our Jewish storytelling, for the present and future. Jewish bloggers are not the enemies of Jewish storytelling: if anything, as bickering, economic collapse and technological confusion compete for communal attention, they just might be its salvation… But what do I know? I’m just a blogger.

As for my response, I guess if you’re still reading this post, I owe you that much at least! To me it’s kind of obvious that traditional media (ie Newspapers and Television) and digital media (blogs, facebook, twitter etc.) have a symbiotic relationship. Many blog posts take the form of commentary on articles published by traditional media. When properly cited and linked, these posts generate additional traffic for the original news source. Most newspapers are still struggling to redefine themselves in this new digital era, but one can’t help but note that those that are succeeding have done so by integrating their own blogs, twitter feeds and facebook pages as well as instantaneous reader comments, into their digital offerings.

It is however true that we are not “professionals.” We do not get paid to blog. A professional news gathering organization like the JTA is and ought to be seen as an essential and important part of the Jewish community. But please, do not cast aspersions on bloggers’ capabilities. Successful bloggers are passionate about what they write about. They don’t cover a story because someone told them to – they cover it because they care. This adds an added dimension to Jewish Story telling that you often don’t get in traditional Jewish media. Furthermore, because bloggers aren’t professional, they are independent and free to cover controversial stories that news gathering organizations, beholden to their major funders, wouldn’t touch.

In fact, one can arguably state that the rapid rise and success of the Jewish blogosphere came about because traditional Jewish media had become as stale and uninteresting as the organized Jewish community organizations that funded them and for whom they gladly acted as mouthpieces. Just as the organized Jewish community was seen as unfriendly and unsupportive of young Jewish innovators and alternative perspectives, so too did the traditional Jewish media do a rotten job of presenting content that was interesting to the emergent digital generation.

Now I’d like to think that the organized Jewish community is making progress and being more receptive to and accepting of a multiplicity of voices. The JTA however has taken a giant step backwards and I hope for their sake and ours that this was just a momentary setback, an editing error or a poorly thought out idea. I eagerly look forward to some kind of clarification or retraction by the JTA.

Oh and just to be fair, if you want to pony up the $50 a year for JTA membership – “less than $1 a day” as noted helpfully noted by Spungen Bildner (more like less than 14 cents a day bit who’s counting?) – you can do so here. And if you’re feeling REALLY generous, please help Save Passover here.

I only read this after I wrote the post but for yet another perspective, read Maya Norton’s post “The JTA in Crisis” on The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy where she concludes with a prediction:

What’s the story here? Are the JTA’s own blogs showing them how truly powerful a medium blogging can be? Are they being hit so hard by the economy that they have to separate themselves from their closest competitors, self-identified as the blogs? Whatever it is, the message of the site, heavy with a new media blog-based design, and its blogging and twittering staff, do not align with the negative heavy handedness of its organizational message. Be on the look-out for some back pedaling in the near future.

Stay tuned!

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  1. Maya Norton

    4/5/2009 at 9:00 am

  2. Jack

    4/5/2009 at 10:36 am

  3. Lydia

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  4. Proud Self-Loather

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  5. Rabbi Yonah

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  6. Dan Sieradski

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  7. froylein

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  28. Rabbi Yonah

    4/6/2009 at 12:09 am

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