September 9, 2004
Federation to End Donor Subscriptions
Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.
Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.
The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.
"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.
As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.
The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.
The distribution plan is unique among North America's 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."
Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.
On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper's circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.
"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you're in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you're going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.
Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.
"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.
The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.
However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.
With federation papers, "you're not really doing journalism. You're self-censoring or you're being censured, which isn't healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.
Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.
Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.
Fishel said The Journal's decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal's decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.
Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.
"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.