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Jewish Journal

Why I Am Who I Am

by Amy Klein

June 29, 2006 | 8:00 pm

I began my career in journalism at The Jerusalem Post, then the only English-language newspaper in Israel. It wasn't a Jewish newspaper per se; more than covering "Jewish news," its mission was to cover Israel as a country, and that included arts, business, science and technology, politics and crime -- which most often turned out to be Jewish.

A story was newsworthy if it happened in Israel or if it happened to the Jews; so I was not a "Jewish" reporter, but a reporter covering a specific topic, like a business reporter or an arts reporter.

I wrote about a Palestinian dairy factory in Hebron, a Saudi Arabian prince's shopping trip, a Tom Jones concert, the advent of Starbucks, a lesbian couple's High Court petition -- hardly what you would call "Jewish" stories. There were great lengths I'd go to for a story: I jumped out of a plane once for the cover of the sports magazine; I traveled to the French Alps to ski (oh, the sacrifices!); and I even ran a 10k -- before I was a runner -- in order to score an interview with the then-mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert. (As prime minister of Israel I wonder if he still runs six miles three times a week.)

Of course, as a magazine writer and then the Jerusalem Affairs correspondent, I also covered "Jewish" stories, especially on the police beat, which hour after hour proved Ben Gurion's prediction: "When Israel has prostitutes and thieves we'll be a state just like any other."

Over the years I've also written for various Jewish publications, including The Forward, Hadassah, Moment Magazine and this newspaper, but my first years at The Jerusalem Post shaped my outlook: The Jewish community is a topic, my particular area of expertise, and it deserves the same degree of objectivity and professionalism of every other specialized newspaper beat.

I've always known that I've had a responsibility both to the ethics of journalism and to the Jewish community as a whole. On every story I ask myself, am I covering this objectively and in a journalistically professional way? And will this story contribute in a meaningful way to the community?

In my 10 years as a journalist, I have always tried to maintain that balanced distance in my stories. I've tried to find stories that have news value, above and beyond what we call the "bar mitzvah" stories -- the happy ones that people always say they want to see in Jewish newspapers, the stories that make the Jews look good. I'm not a publicist; I'm a reporter, who reveals both the good and the bad.

"Aren't you violating the laws of lashon hara?" a religious relative once asked, referring to the edict against speaking or promulgating gossip or malicious news. As a Jew, I've tried to ensure that the stories I do are not salacious for gossip's sake. Sure, I've written many stories that are difficult and upsetting to many, but they seemed necessary. It is necessary to expose a crime, to right a wrong or to address a fault.

But there have also been countless stories that I've sat on, held or not investigated because I've deemed them too private, or serving no purpose beyond gossip. On the flip side, though, I've also been an advocate of exposing public figures who turned out not to be what they said they were, or who we said they were.

Looking back over the last 10 years, my job has not been easy -- and at times it has been thankless -- but I think about all the people I've gotten to cover: Israeli presidents, American rock stars, Brooklyn politicians, a Los Angeles actor turned governor and the true builders of the Jewish community. I know that no life as a lawyer or a businessperson could ever equal those moments. I also know that in covering the Jews and Jewish issues, I've fulfilled my original mission: To contribute in a meaningful way to my people.

 

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