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Jeffrey Goldberg backflips on Jewish journalism with move to Tablet

by Danielle Berrin

June 6, 2011 | 10:35 am

Last week, Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg announced his plan to move his eponymous blog, “Goldblog” to the online Jewish magazine, Tablet. This came as a surprise, since during an interview for a profile I wrote of him last fall, he expressed considerable discomfort with the term “Jewish journalist.” He said it was “ghettoizing” and that he didn’t want to be “pigeonholed” and that blogging on Jewish issues from The Atlantic’s general interest platform suited him just fine (see below). “It’s the best of all possible worlds,” Goldberg said.

Well, something changed his mind (or maybe it was Mem Bernstein, the venture philanthropist that funds Nextbook Inc. and affiliates). Because what once seemed parochial and limiting to Goldberg is now being plugged in the most flattering terms: Tablet is “entertaining, stimulating, sophisticated and complicated,” he said in a PR statement posted on Tablet’s Website. But writing on his blog last Friday, he was more honest about his ambivalence: “I don’t make this move lightly,” he wrote.

“I think we’re entering a period of huge disruption in the relationship between America and Israel, and between American Jews and Israelis, and I want to be able to focus on these conflicts in an intensely granular way, inside the Jewish community. Tablet is the most exciting Jewish publication I’ve seen since I worked, in the previous century, at the Seth Lipsky-led Forward, and it is becoming the hub of the worldwide Jewish conversation.”

Judging by the numbers, not exactly. While Tablet boasts a number of highfalutin contributors including New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, the humorist David Rakoff, historian Deborah Lipstadt and others, it has yet to find a large enough audience to catapult its high-quality content into the national conversation.

Based on a one-year web traffic comparison between Tablet and The Forward (where Goldberg got his first journo gig) at compete.com, The Forward consistently outperforms Tablet, sometimes by a margin as wide as 62,000 unique visitors a month and other times, by a narrow 15,000. But at least according to a survey of the past year, the 2009 upstart has never gained the edge. Adding Goldberg’s blog and its devoted following to the Tablet arsenal might help sway the numbers in their favor.

In any event, I’d like to welcome the reluctant Jewish journalist back to Jewish journalism—of the “official” sort.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Jewish Journalism:

Danielle Berrin: So you’re Jewish and you’re a journalist. Do you consider yourself a Jewish journalist?

Jeffrey Goldberg: No.

DB: Why not?

JG: Oh you want me to give long answers. I’m Jewish and I’m a journalist. I don’t know what that term means. It has a kind of ghettoizing implication that I don’t like. I’m a journalist. I write a lot about Jewish subjects – but I don’t consider myself, I mean others do obviously, but I don’t consider myself acting on behalf of the Jewish people. One of the reasons I’m sensitive about the idea of Jewish journalists is you don’t want to be pigeonholed. I was a generalist for a long time and there are many advantages to being a generalist such as you don’t get bored by one subject. I think you should write about what obsesses you and I’m obsessed with these questions of Israel and the Arabs and Jewish identity but I’m also interested in other things. My longest piece this year was an 18,000 word piece in the New Yorker about elephant conservationists in Africa, which you should go look up.

DB: You started your journalism career at The Forward and have gone on to write for The New Yorker, New York Times, Jerusalem Post, The Atlantic. Did you consider yourself a Jewish journalist when you began? Can you speak to your evolution from niche journalist to generalist, in terms of what issues concern you or interest you the most?

JG: I was interested in those [Jewish] subjects, but I didn’t want to be limited by them so I wanted to get away from it. For a long time I was all the way away from it, covering organized crime for New York magazine, and then when I went to The New Yorker ten years ago, I picked up the Middle East issues again more in earnest. And then you know, 9/11 happened, and then after that obviously the appetite for stories about that part of the world increased. The funny thing is, you know, when you start a blog, you don’t know what’s going to happen to it, and obviously it’s become pretty damn Jewy. And I think that’s because a blog is a pretty organic extension of yourself and your interests. I’m glad to have the blog located in a general interest magazine. It’s the best of all possible worlds; I get to pursue some of these obsessions—there is a certain appetite in the general world for coverage of JStreet but not that much—but on my blog, I can go at it fairly intensively and nobody seems to mind.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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