Grants exclusivity to competing newspaper with little coverage of the haredi sex abuse issue.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The price you pay
By Mayer Fertig, Publisher and Editor in Chief The Jewish Star
As you might well imagine, one of the more, let’s say challenging, aspects of publishing a frum newspaper that actually covers the news involves navigating the treacherous shoals of discontent from people who would be ever so much happier if discussions of uncomfortable matters never appeared in print.
It’s a balancing act we’re used to dealing with, admittedly with varying degrees of success. The Orthodox world we cover is a diverse, fractious place. Most of us would describe the spectrum of frumkeit as running from right to left (or left to right, depending on where you stand) with the extreme left describing the far reaches of Modern Orthodoxy and the extreme right describing the far reaches of the Yeshiva (some say Charedi) world.
To digress for a moment, it’s worth pointing out that outside of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, a Jewish newspaper that covers only Orthodoxy is economically impossible. It was tried and failed in Baltimore, where the sizable Yeshiva community detests the Baltimore Jewish Times, particularly for its uncovering of sexual abuse (more on that journalistic landmine in a moment). Across the country Jewish papers tend to be, if not outright secular, then ecumenical in nature, covering the goings on of all the local Jews.
So Orthodox communities around here are fortunate to enjoy a number of publications that cater to them; a couple of them even cover the news. One thing is fairly consistent, though: most are aimed at the yeshivish/charedi world exclusively and tailor their coverage to suit. That means a number of subjects are deemed not suitable for (much) public discussion.
The Jewish Star approaches the world from a different standpoint: the center. Moderation, we believe, extreme neither to the left nor to the right, offers the most opportunity for all members of the frum community to enjoy what the paper has to offer. In practice, the location of the center is sometimes open to discussion; certainly those on the far right or left, at different times or even simultaneously, have deemed the paper completely off the reservation. This is unavoidable and nothing we lose sleep over, though admittedly it has almost certainly cost us some advertisers — which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Principle does not come without cost.
This week, I am proud to tell you, principle cost us a columnist.
When I began the job nearly three years ago of refocusing The Jewish Star as a newspaper offering real news to the Orthodox community, one of the founding elements I inherited from my predecessors was “The Right Angle,” a syndicated weekly column authored by Rabbi Avi Shafran.
To his critics, and there are a couple of them out there, Rabbi Shafran is controversial but, who isn’t? I consider him a friend and someone I believe writes from a well of deep sincerity. His day job is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America and presumably he is on the clock when he writes. However, the column is syndicated separately and Agudah has tended to not claim ownership, so as to make him deniable. Think “Mission: Impossible” where agents were warned that if they were to be killed or captured, “the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”
A number of readers, who mistakenly perceive The Jewish Star as purely a “Modern Orthodox” newspaper, rather than one writing about the entire Orthodox community from a place in the center of it, have criticized the column’s continuation. In my judgment, however, it has been a useful, often very eloquent part of what The Jewish Star has to offer — and dealing with criticism is part of my job.
Last week Agudah claimed ownership of the column and, unfortunately, indicated that perhaps it doesn’t handle criticism too well, either from within, or from elsewhere. I was informed that at the insistence of unnamed local constituents of Agudath Israel, Agudah would henceforth grant exclusive rights to Rabbi Shafran’s column to the other local Orthodox paper, which I gather they deem to be more pliable and eager to please.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair amount of comment about stories we covered recently in The Jewish Star that were either not covered elsewhere at all, or were not covered in other Orthodox papers and it’s not hard to connect the dots: this is primarily about our coverage of the incremental steps toward public acknowledgment that sexual abuse is an actual, honest to goodness problem in our world.
We’ll miss “The Right Angle,” as I suspect Rabbi Shafran will miss being published side by side with columnists who don’t pay for their slot. But, as I said, principle comes at a cost, and the cost runs both ways. While his exit will not leave a physical hole on this page, Rabbi Shafran certainly has left his mark on the newspaper for the better, and for that he has our thanks.
[Hat Tip: Dr. R-F.]