Five local Jewish news outlets will embark on a coordinated initiative to find more sustainable and impactful ways to deliver their journalism, supported by a leading philanthropic fund and professionals on the cutting edge of advancing news organizations’ efforts in developing audiences and finding long-term sustainability.

The Jewish Journalism Fellowship, which kicks off on March 1st, is a new, year-long program designed to help local Jewish news outlets thrive in the twenty-first century media landscape. A project of Maimonides Fund, the Fellowship will support a cohort of local Jewish news organizations in strengthening their capabilities in the areas of audience development,
organizational sustainability, and Jewish community engagement.

Five independent, not-for-profit, local publications were selected for the first year of the program. The participating publications are Cleveland Jewish News, J. – The Jewish News of Northern California, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, 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.

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 Blue Engine team includes its founder and CEO, Tim Griggs, a former strategy and product executive at The New York Times and former publisher of The Texas Tribune ; Ryan Tuck, a former editor at Bloomberg and journalist, audience development and product lead at McClatchy, EducationNC, and elsewhere; and Joanne Heyman, an experienced executive coach and strategic advisor.

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. Staff from participating publications will learn from and with Jewish educators, journalists and thought leaders, and communal professionals, with the twin goals of further enriching the content they deliver to their readers, and exploring solutions to common challenges facing Jewish media and Jewish communal life.

This aspect of the program is being facilitated by Maimonides Fund staff, in consultation with journalist and researcher Alan D. Abbey, who has a long-term interest and track record in advancing the fields of Jewish and digital media. Currently a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Abbey founded Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahoronot’s English
language website, Ynetnews, and authored the study “Reporting Jewish: Do Journalists Have the Tools to Succeed?”

Further guidance is being provided by an advisory board that includes former New York Times religion columnist and journalism professor Ari L. Goldman, relational engagement expert and Executive Director of GatherDC Rachel Gildiner, pre-eminent Jewish historian Jonathan D. Sarna, and civic education specialist Tamara Mann Tweel.

Sessions for the Fellowship will take place via Zoom, with the possibility of in-person convenings toward the end of the year, depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.