If you think tech-savvy young people don’t read or care about printed Jewish newspapers, then you haven’t met Alana Kayfetz and Rachel Singer. These two young Toronto women are spearheading a grassroots effort to save the Canadian Jewish News, which is set to cease publication on June 20.
Kayfetz and Singer, both 29 and both CJN subscribers, were devastated to read an April 22 letter to readers from CJN President Donald Carr announcing Canada’s flagship national Jewish newspaper had succumbed to the two biggest challenges plaguing printed media: diminished advertising revenue and the widespread expectation that news and commentary be made available for free. Carr mentioned the hope that the CJN could continue in a digital format, but he was not specific about such plans.
“We made substantial operating changes, which we thought would assist. After careful analysis, we have concluded that they do not,” Carr explained. The decision was made to cease publishing the weekly and to use whatever assets were left to wrap things up properly and pay severance to the approximately 50 employees who had been putting out the paper’s Toronto and Montreal editions.
With the disappearance of the CJN from newsstands and mailboxes, the Canadian Jewish community would be left with only one non-regional paper, B’nai Brith Canada’s The Jewish Tribune, and several local Jewish publications.
Kayfetz and Singer immediately sprung into action, using modern social media tools to try to save the 53-year-old weekly tabloid, which is more often seen in the hands of older people than in those of the women’s mobile device-toting peers. Within hours of launching their “Save the CJN” website, they discovered hundreds of other Millennials felt the same way.
“Having an independence source of news is vital to the health of the Canadian Jewish community,” Singer, a digital media strategist working for major Canadian publications, told The Times of Israel during a joint conference call with Kayfetz.
In her opinion, no American Jewish or Israeli publication could replace the CJN. “The CJN is curated by our community. The Canadian Jewish community has its own identity, with a lot of people to be represented and to stay connected,” she said referring to the country’s Jewish population of approximately 350,000.
“I see the CJN as a media brand — one that has to be revitalized and completely rethought and re-strategized.”
As she envisions it, a print edition would be part of a revamped multi-platform mix. “The printed format is an important service to elderly individuals and to religious families, who read it on Shabbat. For both these groups, the paper is a vital link to the community.”
Kayfetz is even more attached to the printed newspaper. “When I see a newspaper or magazine, I always pick it up and read it. I’m a tactile person,” she said. As the development director for a Jewish non-profit, she reads the CJN regularly to keep abreast of community happenings. “Print media gives something a level of authenticity and authority,” she added.
The women decided that the best response to the surprising announcement from Carr was to quickly unearth the support the CJN has within the community.
The Save the CJN movement went viral through social media, garnering in just a few days more than 60,000 views, over 3,600 petitions signatures and more than 2,000 brain trust posts
They set up the website, which includes an online petition, as well as a “brain trust” section for people to submit comments and ideas for saving the publication. On April 24, they emailed a link to the site to 10 friends each. It went viral through social media, garnering in just a few days more than 60,000 views, over 3,600 petitions signatures and more than 2,000 brain trust posts. The women also gave people the option to send their feedback in by regular mail, or to leave a voicemail message on a “Save the CJN” hotline.
The website asks posters to provide demographic information, with women reporting that the ages of respondents range from 14 to 85, with the majority in their 30s to 50s.
Kayfetz and Singer’s leadership did not go unnoticed. Bernie Farber, a human rights activist, mentioned them by name in a May 1 piece he wrote for the Huffington Post titled, “Why We Must Rescue the Canadian Jewish News,” and more recently, they have been profiled in the mainstream media.
Crucially, they were invited to a meeting with community leader Marty Goldberg, who the CJN board appointed “chief rescue officer,” charged with leading an overall effort to save the paper following the public outpouring of support. Goldberg has given himself a May 31 deadline to determine whether there will be a new print version of the CJN.
In speaking with Goldberg, Singer and Kayfetz summarized the vast amounts of feedback they had collected. Among the key issues were a need to modernize and reach the under-40 demographic, and a desire for more inclusiveness and engagement of a broader audience. They also conveyed to Goldberg that many readers thought the paper’s value proposition was taken for granted and that subscription prices were too low.
“Alana Kayfetz and Rachel Singer, the young professionals who co-founded the savethecjn.com initiative that crystallized the community outcry at the prospect of the paper’s closing, said their involvement in the paper’s rebirth will not end with last week’s rescue decision by the board,” Carr wrote in a May 6 update.
He specifically mentioned Project CJN 2.0, which the women have added to their grassroots campaign. Through it, they are “organizing the troops so they can be mobilized when the time comes,” as Singer put it. Young people with a wide range of professional skills have approached Kayfetz and Singer offering to assist with any CJN re-launch that might happen.
In an email to The Times of Israel, Carr said he wasn’t particularly surprised that Singer and Kayfetz, the niece of the late prolific Canadian Jewish journalist Ben Kayfetz, had stepped up. However, he did admit that the reaction of so many other young people has been most surprising.
‘The results of a recent survey were that the majority younger members of the community were not at all interested in the CJN, and certainly not as a print edition’
“We had commissioned a survey of our readers from a very experienced survey company a few months ago,” he wrote. “The results of that survey were that the majority younger members of the community were not at all interested in the CJN, and certainly not as a print edition…”
Atara Beck has been watching all this unfold from her home in Beit Shemesh in Israel. The daughter of CJN founders, Meyer and Dorothy Nurenberger, she recalls her parents working together on the paper at the kitchen table in their Toronto home. Dorothy, a concert pianist from New York and the paper’s publisher, would type articles discussed with and dictated to her by Meyer, a passionate Polish-born journalist who had covered the Nuremberg Trials and the Eichmann Trial. He served as the editor from 1960 until 1971, when he sold the paper to a group of community leaders following Dorothy’s death.
Asked what she thought her parents would say about the CJN’s possible demise, Beck, who happens to be the Israel correspondent for The Jewish Tribune, said she thought they would be sad, but that they would not want to see it saved with community funds that could be spent on urgent needs like poverty and education.
‘Many people in their 20s and 30s have been seeing it in their families’ homes since childhood, and there’s a feeling of loss’
As to the recent unearthing of youthful support for the paper, “I think there’s a very emotional aspect to it… Many people in their 20s and 30s have been seeing it in their families’ homes since childhood, and there’s a feeling of loss,” she said.
Singer and Kayfetz don’t deny their emotional attachment to the CJN, but they maintain that they are not driven by sentimentality. They are confident in what they are doing and say they are in it for the long haul, ready and waiting to to cooperate with the CJN board when the time comes.
“The powers that be don’t move as quickly as us,” said Singer.