The Canadian Jewish News was born amid death threats, but it is dying because of a changing media landscape and general indifference.
On Monday, when the CJN told subscribers in an online note it would cease publishing a weekly newspaper in Toronto and Montreal, readers responded with a blend of surprise and nostalgic regret, but many admitted they hadn’t read it regularly in years.
“This is the one newspaper that keeps us abreast of goings-on in the Jewish community across the country,” said Joseph Paperman, the president of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim synagogue. Still, he admitted: “By the time any kind of news appeared in there, it wasn’t really news any more.”
The paper has a website – and on Monday its president Donald Carr said he harboured hopes of relaunching as a digital-only publication – but it operates at a pre-Internet pace.
“As long as I can remember, every Thursday you’d get a copy of the CJN and it was sort of comforting,” noted Helen Zukerman, the artistic director of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. “I’d thumb through the paper and see what’s going on: Who’s doing a fundraiser and where. It was just sort of a connector.” But even though the film festival used to depend on reaching readers through the paper, Zukerman noted that it has seen a sharp increase recently in patrons learning about the festival and buying tickets directly from its website.
“Seniors included, they were quite good on the computer.”
If the CJN resembles a small-town paper – the 2013 editorial calendar for its Montreal edition includes an edition dedicated to weddings and another featuring Westmount Seniors – for decades it covered hard news, frequently scooping its counterparts in the mainstream media. In 1976, The Globe and Mail’s then-editor, Richard Doyle, wrote a tribute in the CJN in honour of the fifth anniversary of being taken over by new owners.
“I know of no other community newspaper that consistently deals in such a provocative way with local, national, and international issues,” he wrote. “It catches stories the metropolitan press and newsmagazines have missed or neglected and it relates them to concerns that are deeply felt in Canada.”
That was in tune with its founder, Meyer Joshua Nurenberger, an immigrant from Europe via New York who had launched the paper with his wife in January, 1960, despite repeated death threats and the fact that someone had painted a swastika on their garage.
Still, a 2001 obituary of Nurenberger in The Globe noted that he was upset by the paper’s resistance, after he sold it, to challenging certain elements in the community. “He believed that a newspaper should be a thorn in the side of the establishment,” noted his daughter, Atara Beck.
Over the years, it grew more resistant to covering controversial stories, in contrast to outlets such as the London-based Jewish Chronicle that were engaging with the hard issues facing world Jewry. “I’m sure it dissatisfied a lot of the people who felt there should be more investigation, more reporting on the local scene,” said Lewis Levendel, who worked at the paper from 1971-78 and included a history of the CJN in his book A Century of the Canadian Jewish Press, 1880s-1980s.
Meanwhile, the exploding constellation of online outlets dedicated to Jewish issues – from the politically minded TheTower.org to the culturally hip Jewish Daily Forward – left the CJN looking severely out of step with the times.
Still, said Levendel, “It’s a shock for me, and a sad day. It was still a superior newspaper of a sort. It was accepted as a kind of lapdog for the community, but it was still well put together.”
“When I talk to other people, they still quote the CJN. They took it very seriously.”