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The Jewish Report Editorial

The Jewish Report’s new digital leap

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GEOFF SIFRIN

The launch of the Jewish Report’s new website this week, poses great opportunities for providing South African Jewry with a variety of modes – printed paper, website, smartphone, tablet, and more – for disseminating news and information, debating issues, and facilitating its members’ involvement.

There will be coverage of the local scene, Israel and the world, from top journalists, columnists and bloggers, in written, video and audio formats.

We are following local and international media in keeping up with the latest technological advances. Newspapers are essentially becoming content providers for a variety of platforms, rather than a single platform as in the past, with implications for readership and advertising – the source of revenue.

The new developments, with much more content available from many more sources, also bring dangers regarding the sort of material carried. Over the 15 years since the Jewish Report was founded, we have jealously guarded its professionalism and integrity. Any newspaperman knows how much effort goes into making and sustaining a good newspaper. Readers for the most part take our quality and integrity for granted and rightly expect it.

The New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, in an interview in Ha’aretz this week, said that making a quality newspaper was like making a Swiss watch – you have to get it “just right”.

“If you are a Swiss watch company, you’ve got to be very careful about damaging the quality of the watch… (on the other hand) if you want to be a very cheap electronic watch company, it’s a different story, and your business model will be about selling millions and millions of watches.”

At the New York Times, he said: “We’re in the Swiss watch business in journalism – very labour-intensive, beautifully made, high-quality journalism. And you’ve got to be careful that you don’t ever mess with the watch – the core of it.”

Between the two poles of the Swiss watch and the cheap electronic watch, where does the Jewish Report, as a community newspaper, fit in? In the direction of the former, we hope.

Traditional newspaper production, honed over well more than a century, produced certain ways of working, with its disciplines and values. Limitations on the paper’s size meant journalists had to be parsimonious in putting stories together, stripped of unnecessary adjectives and hyperbole.

The ABC of journalistic writing was “accuracy, brevity and clarity”. With the digital age, there is more leeway, with unlimited space. But “more is not always better”. People will not read a mass of grey reams of text. Ultimately, they look for quality, not quantity.

Journalistic issues such as libel and decency must still be respected. Even with so many contributors to the site’s content, it cannot become a free-for-all. How to moderate and control the site’s content becomes a major issue.

It is also important to remember that online journalism is real-time worldwide, as are its consequences, and the Internet is an unpoliced – and largely unpoliceable – space. Websites are continually vulnerable to hackers, whereas printed publications are much more secure and finite.

In the realities of this new era, most newspapers are still in learning mode, exploring different models for producing content and making money.

Contrary to the opinions of some media analysts, Thompson believes printed newspapers are not going to disappear, despite the move towards digital. For his company, the decline in printed paper readership had stabilised and “…we’re going to go on printing the newspapers as long as people want us to, and the indications are that that will be for many more years to come”.

At the Jewish Report, we are entirely dependent on advertising for our revenue. The sustainability of the printed paper and the website depends on revenue from advertising. Journalists, printers, distributors and other suppliers, have to be paid.

Sophisticated websites of major publications are manned by teams of dedicated specialists. With the Jewish Report’s much more limited resources, we are determined nevertheless to punch in the big league, and continue providing readers with the quality they have become accustomed to. This will obviously pose challenges and be a continuous learning curve. We are looking forward to the new challenges.

  • Originally published week ending 8 November

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