Blogging the Omer, Day 25: Newspaper beholden to its funders? – no, really?
Week Four, day Four
Netzach of Netzach
Over a year ago, Akiba Hebrew Academy, the country’s oldest day school, changed a long standing policy, and decided that it would accept a $5million gift on condition that it change its name to the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in honor of the older brother of the donor, who died in a plane crash at age 27. But here’s the turn of the screw: the donor was Leonard Barrack, the newly elected board chair of the Philadelphia federation.
When alumni attempted to object to this change in policy, they were ignored, when they turned to the local Jewish paper, the Jewish Exponent, it turned them down and even contacted school representatives.
Says the Forward,
The debate over the paper’s actions raises a thorny and persistent question that pervades much of local Jewish journalism: When Jewish newspapers are sponsored by the federation, can their reporting be truly independent?
“This incident points out the importance of a community newspaper paper having editorial independence from the local Federation,” wrote Ari Goldman, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, in an e-mail to the Forward. “Given economic necessities, I recognize that total independence might be an impossible goal but the paper should do its best to be an independent voice.”
…aggrieved Akiba alumni, particularly from the class of 1971, organized to protest the name change and to urge the board to reconsider. As part of that push, a number of alumni submitted their arguments to the Exponent this month in the form of a letter to the editor and a full-page advertisement. Both charged that the school had allowed federation politics, and Barrack’s stature, to influence the board’s decision.
The Exponent would publish neither the advertisement nor the letter. Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of the Exponent, said that he chose not to publish the letter because the topic was no longer newsworthy.
…Meanwhile, the paper’s advertising department rejected the ad submitted by the alumni. Alumnus Dan Kaplan says that the paper’s general manager told him that the paper would not accept the ad because it was “divisive and contrary to what the Exponent is attempting to do in the community.” In turn, the Exponent forwarded the advertisement to the school’s incoming headmaster, who e-mailed Kaplan and asked to talk.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted that some editor at the Jewish Exponent would have the nerve to say they’re not going to run the ad, and not only that, but show it to Akiba,” Kaplan said.
I know for sure that this is the very first time that a Jewish newspaper has refused to run an article because it would embarrass someone in the Jewish community.