Laying Off Jewish Exponent Staff a Necessary Evil

I worked there for three years, a change was needed.

No, the Jewish Exponent is not dead.

No, the Jewish Exponent is not dead.

Sometimes, tough business decisions need to be made.

There’s no denying that the Jewish Exponent was in serious financial trouble over the past 10 years — so when the paper laid off its entire editorial staff last week, I was not surprised. And I think the paper’s editorial takeover by Mid-Atlantic Media is a step in the right direction.

But many in the Jewish community think the paper is dead. It’s understandable considering today’s headline-driven world and the fact that readers have watched the print edition get thinner and thinner each week:

Here, we see the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia trying to convince a local reporter that the paper will still indeed be publishing.

I worked at the Jewish Exponent as a staff writer from 2005-2008. It was my first journalism job out of college and I considered the staff and editing top-notch. Their thorough, rigorous editing, brought me from college journalist to professional journalist and I’ll never forget many of the lessons I learned there.

But my editors were all long gone years ago.

Then there are the money problems. Even as a fresh-faced 25-year-old, I could tell that the paper was hemorrhaging money. In fact, it was losing $300,000 per year, according to Steve Rosenberg, publisher for the Jewish Exponent and chief marketing officer for its owner, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

There were plenty of signs during my tenure. The news editor resigned and was not replaced. Then a staff writer quit and wasn’t replaced. After I left, the executive editor, managing editor and literary editor all left the paper. I even remember the former publisher offering $100 to the person with the best idea for saving the newspaper money.

It’s time for a new direction. Under the new plan, the paper will have five editorial staff members — four writers and one managing editor. That’s plenty of people to cover the Jewish community. Heck, during my tenure, the most we had was three people writing full-time. While I’m sad for the very sweet people who worked in the graphics department, the decision to outsource to Baltimore just makes sense. It brings the headcount from 15 to five and surely brings the salary levels to manageable numbers.

Josh Runyan will be leading the editorial staff from Baltimore. (He was once my news editor and is now the editorial director for Mid-Atlantic Media.) He’s very tapped into the local Jewish community, graduated from rabbinical school and is a pretty hard-nosed journalist from what I remember.

I think a fresh staff under his leadership will be able to make the move into the digital age, get noticed on social media and produce a steady stream of relevant stories. While the Philadelphia Jewish Voice argues that the leadership change could be a political decision to push a right-wing agenda, I really don’t agree. It’s a push for modernization and increased production from the news team.

When I spoke to Runyan last week, he didn’t talk politics, but instead said that he saw stories “slipping through the cracks” at the Exponent.

“Elements of the community felt under-covered, and that’s going to change. The Greater Philadelphia Jewish community is a vibrant and diverse community,” he said.

Plus, he thinks the future is bright for niche publications — especially the Exponent.

“I’m bullish about the future of niche print publications in general and I’m bullish on the Jewish Exponent in particular,” said Runyan.

I have to agree.