When The Jewish Chronicle was born in 1962 — resulting from the merger of Pittsburgh’s two existing Jewish newspapers, The Jewish Criterion and The American Jewish Outlook — its founders, then-general manager Albert Golomb wrote in the inaugural issue, sought to create “a mirror of the community in its local, national and international aspects.”
Today, the paper — now renamed as the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle — still strives to reflect Jewish Pittsburgh, serving as a means to unite the members of its ever-changing community.
“The community is composed of different elements,” explained David Ainsman, chair of the board of the Chronicle. “We have differences in religious practices, differences in ways of helping various groups — with health care, with youth, with older people — and there is generally no one entity that can be a platform for all of these organizations, and individuals that do not necessarily think like the herd. This newspaper certainly is, and can be to a greater extent, that platform.
“The great strength of Jewish communities involves their diversity, and that diversity has been a critical factor in the continuation of the Jewish people,” Ainsman added. “The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle can be the vehicle to express that diversity.”
While the mission of the Chronicle remains the same 55 years later, the landscapes of Jewish Pittsburgh, as well as American media, have changed dramatically.
Pittsburgh’s central source for Jewish news is likewise adapting to those changes.
“Over the past two decades, two major forces have combined to create a crisis for the Chronicle,” explained Jim Busis, CEO and publisher of the paper since 2012. “The first is the internet, with all the changes it has forced upon all media companies of all types — including people expecting that quality content should be free.”
As a result, print newspapers, including the Chronicle, have been experiencing losses in both subscription revenue and advertising; advertising has not only migrated from print publications to the online realm, Busis said, but ads appearing on internet platforms exist “in such a way that virtually all the revenue goes to the technology companies, not to the publishers.
“At the same time,” Busis continued, “changes in the American Jewish community, including our own community here in Pittsburgh, have meant that fewer and fewer people are actively involved in [Jewish] organizations. Not only does that tend to lead toward fewer subscribers to the Chronicle, but also, if fewer people are involved in synagogues and other organizations, then fewer people are interested in reading about them in the pages of” the paper.
Many Jewish newspapers in other cities have faced the same challenges. Some of those have ceased operation or joined with other publications, while others have been taken over by their local Jewish organizations.
The Chronicle, Busis said, is determined to maintain its relevancy and independence, and during the last few years embarked on an adaptive track, securing its viability by making changes that included reducing operating costs while increasing the size and quality of the paper.
“It’s admittedly not a big change,” Busis said of the new name, “but we think it is a significant change. We’ve kept the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ because that brand has deep resonance in the Jewish community, but we added ‘Pittsburgh’ because we want to emphasize our local roots, our local quality, our local ties to the community and our local coverage.”
The paper also has been redesigned “to make it easier to read, easier to navigate, easier to use and more useful for our readers,” Busis said, “with probably the single most important change in that regard being a full calendar section, as well as expanded space for coverage of community events.”
The Chronicle will also soon relaunch its website, entering into a partnership with The Times of Israel and its growing network.
“We will always have all our local content,” he stressed, “and just like the printed paper, it will have selected national and international content as well. But we will have access to some extra content that we didn’t have before, and that’s always for the better.”
The Chronicle’s final change, “which is absolutely critical to our viability, our role in the community, and our ability to reach as many people as possible,” Busis said, is converting to a free subscription model for every member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, made possible “through the generosity of donors in the community.”
In this week’s issue, there appears a separate article highlighting frequently asked questions “which explains some of the nuts and bolts of this in more detail, but that is the general picture,” Busis said. (See the story on page 6). “We are just thrilled to be able to reach what we believe to be well over half of the Jewish households in Pittsburgh, and will continue to work to reach even more people.
“We really want to be the central platform for communication in Jewish Pittsburgh, the one place where everybody can go to get reliable news and information, to share opinions, to share joys and sorrows,” he added. “We know that people won’t necessarily agree with every viewpoint expressed in the Chronicle, but we always hope they learn something, they will be challenged, and that they will be open to being exposed to viewpoints other than their own.”
Evan Indianer, vice chair of the Chronicle’s board, emphasized that the paper will continue to be the place to go for community news, to find out who is getting married or who has passed on.
“The role of a community paper,” Indianer said, “is to see, to know and to understand your community — to preserve the culture, to educate and to engage readers on important issues. We have an incredibly vibrant Jewish community, with strong institutions and strong passions. We are known across the country for the strength of our community.”
The Chronicle will remain relevant through the changes being undertaken. “People are getting news in different ways,” Indianer said. “We need a vehicle to communicate with each other, to debate with each other, and to share ideas with each other. That’s why it’s critical to get this out to the whole community.”
The role of a Jewish newspaper, Indianer said, is to not only sing the praises of the community, but to rebuke it when its members or its institutions go astray.
“It’s easy for us to feel good about what we do,” Indianer explained. “It’s easy not to pay attention to what we don’t do well. So, it is important to be called out on that. It’s important to individuals and to agencies.”
The success of any community paper lies in its “ability to engage, inform and inspire readers,” said Joshua Runyan, who has served as editor-in-chief since 2014. “That’s been my focus since becoming the editor and it is the animating force behind every one of the journalists who contribute to this publication.”
Over the next several months, representatives of the Chronicle “will be out and about in the community, talking more to various organizations and groups of people about” the paper’s future, Busis said. “We really look forward to having productive dialogue with members of the Jewish community as we work together to make this the best community that we can.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.