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A conversation with…

Daniel Sieradski

Daniel Sieradski knows how to navigate the Internet.

The ‘8-year-old New Milford native created the Jewschool blog in ’00’ and has been pontificating on Jewish culture, religion, and current events ever since, under the alias Mobius. This summer he returned to the United States after three years in Israel, and in August he became director of digital media at JTA, the Jewish wire service. The Standard sat down with Sieradski to find out the future of JTA’s digital presence, Jewschool, and Internet journalism.

Q: You’ve established quite a name for yourself in the Jewish blogosphere through Jewschool. How did you get into blogging?

A: I’ve been blogging since before there was a thing called a blog. I started in 1998 when I was a freshman in college. Eventually this phenomenon became known as blogging and a series of tools became available for what I and other people had been doing online. I’d been on the Internet since it was text-only. It’s just a natural extension of the culture and activities I had already been involved with.

Q: What is the origin of Jewschool?

A: I was doing my own blog, and eventually it had grown in popularity to a point where I had a lot of different people from a lot of different corners of my life sending me links — a lot of Jewish stuff going on, with a lot of non-Jewish stuff. There came a point when I decided to split my Website into three Websites. Jewschool became the Website for the exclusively Jewish content.

I started it on my own and was running it by myself. As it grew in popularity, I started asking friends of mine to get involved. It had over 80 people contributing to the site at one point or another. At our peak we got 50,000 monthly readers. It’s dropped off since then as a result of what we call "blog fatigue" setting in over the past couple of years. People are less interested in blogs overall but focusing in on blogs of particular interest to them.

Q: How will this new position at JTA affect Jewschool?

A: I have resigned. As of Aug. 15.

Q: What have you learned from running Jewschool?

A: The very technical end of running a large Website, dealing with the Jewish communal and institutional world, and dealing with the technological needs; the knowledge of how online communities work; innovative Jewish content and concepts for connecting with broad Jewish audiences using different media online.

Q: You’re really a pioneer of the Jewish blogosphere. As the phenomenon has evolved, how have you changed?

A: I’ve been working in this arena for six years and built dozens of blogs for other Jewish organizations or individuals. Through my experience of it all I got to understand how this culture works, whether we’re talking about Jewish culture on the Internet or blogging culture.

The knowledge I gained is bittersweet. I got so much out of it, and on the other hand, I’m so sick of it. I’ve reached my limit on what I can tolerate in this online world … I’ve come to see how destructive it can be to individuals and communities to engage in such a way without giving any thought to the dramatic power that your words can have. There seems to be this phenomenon where people see something in print they take it way more seriously.

The reverberations it can have in the way it’s interpreted can be destructive to your career. It can be destructive to your relationships. This phenomenon requires a level of consciousness that I don’t think I had. I took this medium for granted. I abused it. While I got a lot out of it, I did a lot of damage to my relationships.

Q: Can you give an example of this destructive interpretation?

A: Though some of the activism [on Jewschool] has been helpful to the Jewish community … Jewschool has a strong Muslim readership. Because we’ve been so eager to call out corrupt Jewish institutions and really grill them, we’ve been called on by corrupt anti-Semites. There needs to be balance of trying to be true, honest, and progressive, and realizing people are going to use what you say to their advantage.

I don’t want to abuse this medium. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to hurt the Jewish community by not thinking before I open up my mouth. I do not want to approach this medium again until I have the right consciousness.

Q: Are you still involved in the blogging world?

A: I’m blogging on Orthodox Anarchist. It’s just my personal blog.

Q: Will [your Jewschool alias] Mobius ever return?

A: Mobius is in hibernation. It’s a shmita year, I’m on sabbatical.

Q: Will you ever return to Jewschool?

A: When I get my head on straight.

Q: What impact do you think working at JTA will have on you?

A: Working with a team is going to do a lot to give me perspective and insight I don’t have on my own. When I discuss with them the issues of the day they bring their own perspective. I find that very valuable. They can really show me things — my blank spots. That’s really incredibly helpful.

In addition to that, [I’m looking forward to] just understanding the culture of journalism in a news agency more, [gaining] insight in writing news that’s useful and informative, and [awareness of] things that don’t belong in the articles that you write. It’ll make me a better journalist just watching journalists at work.

Q: After years of running your own blog, is this where you saw yourself?

A: I’m very happy with my new position. It’s totally what I was made for. The intersection of Web technology, Jewish culture, and journalism is where my skill sets are. It incorporates all the pieces of myself that excite me and motivate me.

Q: What does the director of digital media do?

A: I’m focusing on JTA’s Website — dealing with day-to-day technical issues but also working toward Web strategy, which includes perhaps developing a new Website or new features on the Website, including video and components of that nature.

Story links:  http://orthodoxanarchist.com/ and www.jewschool.com  

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