Standardizing the Times

Standardizing the Times

In which we announce and describe our new online partnership with the Times of Israel

The Jewish Standard’s and Times of Israel’s websites as they are today. Coming soon: A website for the Jews of northern New Jersey that combines their design, our stories, and your voices.

The Jewish Standard is excited and pleased to announce our online partnership with the Times of Israel.

What does that mean to us, and to you?

It means that our hard copy version will stay as it is, but in the next two months or so our web presence will change entirely.

To explain, first we have to go backward.

Not really so very long ago, the world was so much more black and white.

Take newspapers. To begin with, they actually were black and white (and no matter what color your fingers were when you started to read, they’d be black by the time you were done. Ink didn’t stick on newsprint very well).

Newspapers were paper. Duh. Of course they were. They were the news. On paper. Newspapers. Get it?

And photographs showed exactly what really was there, and you bought books in bookstores (remember them?) or borrowed them from the library, and if you wanted to know a random fact, you’d look it up in the encyclopedia.

Now – well, that’s all so embarrassingly last century.

We at the Jewish Standard put out a print newspaper every week. We have done that – well, not exactly us, today’s staff – but our predecessors – almost every week since December 13, 1931.

Much has changed since then. A subscription to the Jersey City-based publication cost $2 a year; an advertisement for a New Year’s Eve party at the Hotel Plaza in Journal Square shows that the party was $6 per person, the president was Herbert Hoover, two dancing schools advertised on the same page, a new novel by Joseph Roth was reviewed, there was an ad for cigarettes (Murad, which used Turkish tobacco), and a filler on the front page (the front page!) informed readers that “[t]here are about twenty species of elms known.” None are found on the “Pacific slope of North America,” it added.

Ominously, on page 3, the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s anonymous reporter quoted the acting president of the Central Verein of German Jewry, Ernest Wallach, as saying that “the Nazi movement has not yet reached its zenith in Germany,” and predicted “even more sweeping victories” for the National Socialists.

The Jewish Standard has forged ahead since those early days. The paper has grown and shrunk with the economy. Typefaces change, mirroring changes in fashion. Photographs appear, become more focused, get sharper and sharper, and eventually sprout color. Women go from being identified only by their husbands’ names, first and last, and their marital status, to being granted their own first names, and being stripped, like their men, of their honorifics. (We’ve recently restored them, by the way; now not only rabbis and physicians get titles. Life, we have decided, should not resemble a high school locker room.)

So now, we have a beautifully designed, well-written (and yes, we do say so ourselves) newspaper, covering our community and the Jewish world beyond it. As it always has, it comes out once a week.

Now, however, newspapers aren’t all on paper, and “news” is something that changes and demands updating far more than weekly.

Newspapers can’t just be news on paper. They also have to be news on electrons. News that wafts through the air with an invisible buzz and lands on your fingertips. Newspapers have to be online.

The Jewish Standard has had a website for a decade or so now.

When we first created it, it was just fine. It was marvelously up to date, every bell crisp, every whistle buffed until the brass shone. But it’s become increasingly arthritic and creaky. It is no longer up to the job we need done.

That is why we are absolutely thrilled to announce our new partnership with the Times of Israel.

This move will not affect our print version at all, but it will revolutionize our online presence.

The Times of Israel, founded three years ago, is an entirely online publication. Its goal is to be nonpolitical. Reporting on a wide range of views – tethering itself to none except the most basic – it exists to fairly represent and therefore to defend Israel.

We will be our online readers’ portal into the Times of Israel. Our local website, which we hope to unveil within the next two months, will look and feel like TOI’s, although the two will not be identical.

Our new site will be streamlined, uncluttered, and gorgeous. It will include the cutting-edge technological advances that the Israeli tech company that supports TOI already has and will continue to develop. We will be able to include many photos, embed videos, create slideshows, and give you Google maps as we explore today’s Jewish world.

Online, we will be able to update our stories as they change. When news breaks, we’ll have it.

When users in our catchment area go to the Times of Israel, through the magic of geolocation – the internet’s ability to know where you are through your IP address – they will see a display of our stories along with TOI’s. That will expand our reach to more people than the ones on our subscription lists. And our readers will be exposed to more news about Israel, about the Jewish world, and about our own community than was possible on our website.

Our new site, like the Times of Israel’s, will include many blogs; the technology makes it easy. Some of the blogs will be by our op ed writers, who represent our community with wit, insight, and skill; others will come from local leaders, representatives of local institutions, and just plain local people. There is a vast reservoir of talent. We plan to dip into it.

We are honored that the Times of Israel chose us as its first North American partner. We know that it is a compliment not only to us at the Standard but to the larger community about which we write. Northern New Jersey is one of the centers of 21st century Jewish life. Passion, commitment, education, joy, love for our heritage and our future – these all are features of our shared Jewish landscape.

We are energized by the opportunity to expand our web presence as we continue to work to cover the community.

Meet the staff at TOI

The Times of Israel, which first was published just about exactly three years ago, was created by the British-born Israeli journalist David Horovitz, whose career path led him – in retrospect, it is tempting to say that it led him inexorably – to creating this new, exclusively online, local-and-global, story-and-blog model.

Mr. Horovitz, who is 52, was born in London, as were his parents. His great grandfather, Rabbi Marcus Horovitz, founded Börneplatz, one of Frankfurt’s great Orthodox synagogues; it was destroyed during Kristallnacht, and the family fled to England.

Mr. Horovitz’s affect is deeply British – not only his accent but his coloring, bearing, and manner, a sort of low-key diffidence – all seem to hint at deep English roots. But that’s skin-deep, it turns out; he went to Jewish day schools, went first to Israel on a school trip, and fell in love with it. Instead of the conventional university program that would have given him a degree in economics and no great sense of purpose, “I saw an ad for a journalism school, and I don’t know why I went and got a place there,” he said. It was in Wales, and “I loved it from the start.

“I thought I was good at math and physics, but I really wasn’t,” he said. “And I never really studied hard at school. But the journalism course really engaged me. It got me going.”

The course took just a year; when he was finished, he took his new degree, made aliyah, and walked into the offices of the Jerusalem Post. “They were very polite, and said come back in a few months, when you have more Hebrew,” he said. He did, and they hired him. “That was my first job in Israel,” Mr. Horovitz said. “I was about 21.”

He did earn an undergraduate degree, from the Hebrew University; he also met and married his wife, Lisa, who was “born in Dallas, the fourth of four daughters, all of whom came to Israel for one program or other. Two of them stayed.”

Since then, Mr. Horovitz’s career has been straightforward and impressive. From the Jerusalem Post – which he calls an “incredibly resonant historical brand, and also very good on the Internet” – he went to the Jerusalem Report, and then back to the Jerusalem Post, where he was editor from 2004 to 2011. Both of those publications, like the Times of Israel, are written in English.

“I had been editor for seven years, and I felt that it was time to move on,” he said. “I was working incredibly hard, and I thought that if I was going to be working this hard, I would like to be running the show myself.

“I thought that there was room and a need for a website that could try to cover Israel, the region, and Jewish news, all without a partisan affiliation,” he continued. “I thought that there was a gap in the middle” – between the ultra-partisan right- and left-wing media outlets that abound in Israel and can give the unwary reader a sense that the middle does not exist, and that the other side is composed entirely of monsters and dim-wits.

He does not disapprove of partisan journalism, he said, but “I think that Israel needs at least one outlet that tries to be fair-minded.

“We don’t take sides to endorse candidates; we hope that we present people with enough information to engender debate and let them make their own decisions.

“It is impossible to be entirely objective, but we can try.”

The one area in which he proudly rejects any pursuit of objectivity is in his publication’s strong defense of Israel. “It is a Zionist publication,” Mr. Horovitz said. “It’s called the Times of Israel! I love this country.”

So he found a partner and backer – Seth Klarman, an American investor whose passion matched his own, and whose pockets are far deeper.

The Times of Israel does not exist only online because he scorns print, Mr. Horovitz said. Instead, “it is economically impossible in the parameters I’m working in” – that is, with a near-global reach – “to print. It would lose us money.”

There are differences between print and online publishing, he said. Part of it has to do with the sense of completion. “You come out with a paper, and you say to yourself, ‘I am done. We have closed the paper.’

“You know that it is not perfect – but so it’s not perfect. It is finished. You have put your heart and soul into it. Even when it’s a daily, there still is a cycle. You have done your best for that day. The next day, you start again.”

It’s not the same online. There, the pressure of events and the need to describe them is constant, or at any rate not subject to external deadlines. “On the internet, you are constantly balancing the twin imperatives of speed and accuracy,” Mr. Horovitz said. “You can be first, but if you are first and you have checked insufficiently, you have failed your readers. And if you are accurate but slow, you also have failed your readers.”

Although at first he said that the sense of cycle is missing from his online work, Mr. Horovitz reconsidered as he spoke. “We are working for two audiences,” he said. Primarily there are Israelis who read in English – of whom there are a lot. There is a lot more traffic in Israel than I thought there would be.

“And then there are the American readers.” Times of Israel readers come from around the world, he added, but about 60 percent of them are American, so they represent his biggest single audience, and aside from Israelis they are his largest single concern.

“There are certainly articles that we put online when we know that America is watching, and others that are more relevant for an Israeli audience, he said. “And some people read on Shabbat and others don’t,” so some stories will be held for that audience. (To add to the complications, of course, the 25 hours of Shabbat stagger across the continents.)

“But we know that people are reading us and looking at us and relying on us at all hours of the day and night.”

Because the Times of Israel offers so many readers a chance to blog, and because like many other online publications it has an open comments section, users’ relationship with the site is in many ways unlike readers’ relationship with their print publications.

Just the terminology is revealing. Readers, by definition, read. Users read, yes, but they also react and interact. If they want to comment, they can do it immediately. They do not have to write a letter to the editor and wait to see if it ends up in print. And because electrons are far cheaper than paper and ink, there are fewer gatekeepers barring their access. “You can just post your comment, engage with other readers, and go wherever that conversation takes you,” Mr. Horovitz said. “People get very passionate about Israel, and about the Jews. And it was ever thus.”

That forms a virtual but also very real community.

Mr. Horovitz is excited about the Jewish Standard’s partnership with the Times of Israel. “We think it’s beneficial for all sides,” he said. “It fulfills one of our goals, which is building bridges between Israel and the diaspora. It enables the Jewish Standard to bring its content to the attention of readers in its area, and beyond, who are looking at The Times of Israel.

“The Times of Israel doesn’t cover local communities with the focus and familiarity of papers such as the Jewish Standard, and the Standard doesn’t cover Israel and the wider Jewish world with TOI’s immediacy and resources, so this strikes us as good news for everyone, and first and foremost the readers.”

Miriam Herschlag, who grew up in Montclair and made aliyah many years ago, edits the Times of Israel’s op eds and its blogs. In that position, she presides over a teeming ecosystem, where the fittest rise to the top and the less fit – well, they don’t.

“It is a very plastic medium,” Ms. Herschlag said. “Our bloggers will do whatever they want to do – they will write reflections or poetry or fiction or about their army experiences.

“They can be as creative as they want to be – and as we let them be.”

Until last summer, the blog section was entirely open; once a blogger was accepted, his or her work was posted unchecked. Last summer’s war in Gaza brought the Times of Israel a deluge of readers, commenters, and bloggers, though, and one of those bloggers published a post that seemed, when given a cursory look, to be calling for the genocide of Israel’s enemies.

Although the post really did not say that, and although it was taken down very quickly, the episode shook the Times of Israel’s editors. Soon a new policy, demanding that someone at the Times of Israel look over each post before it is published, was put into effect.

The Times of Israel has almost 3,000 bloggers. Even with the new rules, they run the gamut of possible beliefs and they display a huge range of writing styles and talents. “I don’t worry about alienating readers, and I push against the limits,” Ms. Herschlag said. “I am interested in going against the echo chamber, and the Times of Israel reflects this plurality of ideas.”

As a result, “this is a noisy place,” she said, a bit ruefully. But “it is a platform that reflects community, and our need to talk to each other, and to listen, and to argue.”

That sounds like democracy in action, doesn’t it? Not really, she said. Instead, she is called “the queen of the blogs. It is not a democracy, it is a monarchy.” She controls the blogs. Like in so much of Jewish life – like in so much of just plain life – competing needs must be balanced. “But in my kingdom, I want to hear someone who makes me uncomfortable,” she said.

“Judaism is argumentative by nature,” she added. “We have the idea of arguments for their own sake, for the sake of heaven. Blogs are a perfect platform for a quarrelsome people.”

Grig Davidovitz, an Israeli who immigrated from Romania as a child, is a journalist and digital media specialist. He does not work directly for the Times of Israel but his company, RGB Media, has produced the technology and design that both power TOI from behind the scenes and provide its public face. He is working closely with the Jewish Standard as well, as we move to our new platform.

“We are moving into a win-win economy of cooperation between different agents that benefits all the participants, and this is a prime example,” he said of the partnership.

“From the Times of Israel’s per­spec­tive, when local users go to the Times of Israel’s website and see prominently displayed links to local stories, it is able to add another layer of coverage that is very relevant to users. That way, local users can get the global perspective on so-called Jewish issues, and they also get the local perspective from their own Jewish community. This cooperation enables us to add this layer.

“From the Jewish Standard’s perspective, you get the synergy, with a lot of traffic coming from the Times of Israel, which is a high-traffic outlet.” The Times of Israel gets approximately three million unique users and more than 25 million page views a month. “The Jewish Standard’s content will be promoted aggressively on the Times of Israel. And the Jewish Standard will be able to use the sophisticated platform and the journalistic methodologies that are part of the reason for the Times of Israel’s success over its three years of life.”

“We’ve been looking at the proper fit for our internet component for some time now,” the Standard’s publisher, Jamie Janoff, said. “There was a reason why the Jewish Standard’s site has remained unchanged for so long. We just weren’t sure which direction we wanted to take. We were going to redesign our site many times, and we asked ourselves whether it made sense to do that.

“And then, when we had the opportunity to speak to the people at the Times of Israel – a product we had tremendous respect for – our answer was simple. This made perfect sense.

“There was no reason to reinvent the wheel when we they already owned a fantastic racing car, that purred with perfection. Not only does TOI’s site look good, it addresses the audience we want to reach on a national, even an international level. But our main focus with our new venture will be to create a platform providing northern New Jersey with local news, insight, and connection.

“To be the Times of Israel’s first partner is truly an honor. We have worked hard to produce one of the finest Jewish newspapers in the country. To have TOI recognize our work is beyond wonderful.

“Our company is constantly evolving. I am not one for sitting still. The Standard already has one of the largest Facebook communities in the world when it comes to Jewish weeklies. This is the logical next step in our continued growth.”

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