The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle has been selected to participate in the inaugural Jewish Journalism Fellowship, a yearlong program designed to help local Jewish news outlets thrive in the 21st-century media landscape. Through this program, the Chronicle hopes to serve readers in ways that are more sustainable and impactful, and that strengthen the fabric of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
A project of Maimonides Fund, the Fellowship will support a cohort of independent, nonprofit, local Jewish news organizations in strengthening their capabilities in the areas of audience development, organizational sustainability and Jewish community engagement.
The Chronicle was one of five publications selected for the first year of the program. The other participants are: Cleveland Jewish News; J. – The Jewish News of Northern California; St. Louis Jewish Light, and TC Jewfolk. Participants will learn and apply digital best practices, new business models, revenue generation tools, and explore other solutions to common issues facing Jewish media and Jewish communal life.
“Jewish journalism has been under pressure for some time, and the pandemic has intensified that pressure,” said Jim Busis, CEO and publisher of the Chronicle. “While the Chronicle has made great strides in strengthening its digital services in the past few years, there remains a lot that we want to do to better serve the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
“We started to develop a relationship with the Maimonides Fund last summer, and were thrilled to be invited to participate in this program, the first of its kind,” Busis continued. “By working with some of the top digital media talents in the country, and a peer group of some of the best local Jewish newspapers in the country over the next year, we hope to greatly strengthen everything we do in the digital realm.”
The idea for the Fellowship came out of a desire to stem the tide of closures of local Jewish newspapers during the pandemic, according to Maimonides Fund President Mark Charendoff.
“We recognize the important role that these publications play in keeping their local communities informed and connected, particularly in times of crisis such as during the current pandemic,” said Charendoff. “We hope that this program will help each publication confront its own challenges in a supportive, peer-driven cohort, while also beginning a conversation on how to move the field of local Jewish journalism forward.”
While maintaining a Jewish communal focus, the Fellowship will draw from cutting-edge work being done in the field of mainstream local journalism and audience development, employing the programming model known as Table Stakes, which has been used by more than 100 local newsrooms across the U.S. and Europe to advance their work and impact. (The term “table stakes” comes from poker and refers to the seven things a media organization needs to do in order to be in the game of digital news. The program was originally developed by the Knight Foundation.)
Maimonides Fund has brought in change management expert and Table Stakes co-founder Douglas K. Smith to facilitate this aspect of the program, in collaboration with Blue Engine Collaborative, a consortium of mission-first consultants and advisers with deep experience in supporting news organizations’ efforts toward digital transformation and long-term sustainability.
The Jewish Journalism Fellowship will infuse the Table Stakes format with programming specific to the concerns of local Jewish media professionals and the Jewish community. Together with its fellowship colleagues, Chronicle staff will learn from and with Jewish educators, journalists and thought leaders, and communal professionals, with the twin goals of enriching the content it delivers to its readers and exploring solutions to common challenges facing Jewish media and Jewish communal life.
Sessions for the Fellowship will take place via Zoom, with the possibility of in-person meetings toward the end of the year, depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. PJC
— Toby Tabachnick