Jerusalem Post, heavyweight in English-language Israel news, starts a new chapter

 

 

Click photo to download. Caption: New Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz (left) with outgoing editor-in-chief Steve Linde on stage at the newspaper's fifth annual conference last month in New York City. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem.

By Aryeh Werth/JNS.org

The fifth Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York City generated debate not only about the future of the State of Israel, but also about the future of the host of last month’s gathering—Israel’s widest-read English-language newspaper.

Indeed, the U.S. is a fitting location for the annual conference of a newspaper whose website (www.JPost.com) attracts 5 million unique visitors and more than 20 million page views each month—with about 70 percent of that online readership coming from America.

Nearly 1,500 attendees witnessed the Jerusalem Post’s generational shift in leadership on May 22, as its outgoing top editor, Steve Linde, 56, handed over the reins to incoming Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz, 36. The transition looked seamless on stage, but the 86-year-old newspaper faces the challenge of adapting to the demands of the 21st-century journalism industry.

From the outset, Katz faces a number of strategic questions, including: How will the Jerusalem Post maintain its lead over growing competition online? How will the new editor attract younger Jewish readers who are generally less affiliated religiously? Will there be any changes to the newspaper’s editorial stance?

In separate interviews with JNS.org, Katz and Linde discussed the transition and the possibility of changes at the newspaper.

“It’s too preliminary to talk about change,” Katz says. “But what I will say is that the Jerusalem Post serves as the main platform that sets the agenda for what the Jewish world reads, and for what people interested in Israel read. I want to strengthen that.”

As arguably the leading source for Israel news in English, the newspaper plays a special role in the Diaspora—and that isn’t lost on Katz.

“By serving as a news platform, we help Jews connect to Israel. That’s a huge responsibility and it will be a key part of what the paper is in the future,” he says.

Katz’s rise

Katz’s background seems to match the tasks at hand. A religious Zionist, he grew up in a modern Orthodox home in Chicago and made aliyah with his family at age 15. He spent four years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Armored Corps and later earned a law degree at Bar-Ilan University. The new editor is young enough, perhaps, to understand how to reach the younger audience—yet he is also a Jerusalem Post veteran. And he likes to tweet.

“Yaakov is an extremely talented journalist and writer who also happens to have great managerial and people skills. I am sure he will be a great editor-in-chief,” says Katz’s predecessor, Linde.

Katz, who wears a yarmulke, is believed to be the first Orthodox editor of the Jerusalem Post. His journalistic instincts seem to cause him to bristle when asked how being a Torah-observant Jew will influence him in his new role—but he answers the question anyway.

“Where my observance plays in is only in one way—and that is because I keep Shabbat from Friday on sundown to Saturday night, [when] I don’t tweet, I don’t write, and I don’t look at our website,” he says. 

Katz’s journalism career started almost accidentally. As a newly married law student at Bar Ilan-University, he needed to pay the bills. He found a job at Haaretz as a part-time copy editor, and his passion for journalism was born. After a stint writing for USA Today, he joined the Jerusalem Post in 2003 as a military correspondent and covered the major IDF operations of the next decade, including Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the Second Lebanon War, and the disengagement from Gaza. While at the newspaper, he authored a widely read book, “Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War.” His second book, “Weapons Wizards: How Israel Became a Military Superpower,” is expected to be published later this year.

In 2012, Katz left the Holy Land for Harvard University on a year-long Nieman Fellowship for journalists. Instead of returning to the Jerusalem Post, however, he was appointed senior advisor to Naftali Bennett—leader of the religious Zionist political party Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), Israel’s former economy and diaspora affairs minister, and the current education minister.

“He is a talented, dedicated Zionist. A loss for me, a great gain for the media,” Bennett tweeted after Katz was named editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Competitive pressure

The Jerusalem Post is known as an influential newspaper whose readership includes top decision-makers, such as diplomats. Its print circulation is 15,000 on weekdays and 40,000 for the weekend edition, but the Internet “is really our main engine,” says Katz. 

“While our print edition is still strong—circulation is up and it’s an important part of what the Post is—there’s no question it’s a fraction of the millions who come to our website [and our] Twitter and Facebook pages,” says Katz.

But JPost.com’s longstanding status as the most-visited English-language Israel news website is being threatened—by a familiar face. TimesofIsrael.com, launched in 2012 by former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz, is now neck and neck with JPost.com in terms of Web traffic, according to an external estimate by SimiliarWeb. Some readers have preferred TimesofIsrael.com for what they believe to be a more sophisticated website design, better navigability, and a vast open blogger platform. Also on JPost.com’s heels is the left-leaning Haaretz.com, with an estimated 4.3 million unique visits per month compared to JPost.com’s 5 million.

“Competition is healthy,” Katz says coolly. He says he believes the Jerusalem Post will prevail over growing competition because of the quality and breadth of its content, from news to features to commentary. Significant resources and effort are also going into upgrading JPost.com, including enhanced back-end technology and better video integration. 

“But one thing we need to do, and it’s a challenge for a lot of newspapers today, is to be fast online, to break news,” says Katz. “It’s a question of speed versus accuracy. We are extremely responsible, as opposed to some of our competition who go for the sensational headline and it turns out to be a lie.”

Centrist’ stance

Perhaps the only thing not subject to change is the editorial stance of the 86-year-old newspaper: openly Zionist, but centrist. That self-described positioning has two core pillars, Katz explains.

“We are unequivocally in favor of peace with the Palestinians, even if it involves a territorial compromise—but it has to be a genuine peace,” he says. “We believe in equality for all Jews no matter what denomination—Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist. They should all have a place in Israel, and be recognized as full Jews in Israel.”

Despite the newspaper’s Zionist stance, Katz believes its news coverage is objective and that its commentary reflects a full range of views—left, right, and center. 

Linde’s next move

Linde—a Jerusalem Post employee for 20 years, including five years as editor-in-chief—tells JNS.org that he is actually staying with the newspaper, as its senior features editor, in addition to writing a book and engaging in his own joint projects with “organizations that do good in the world.”

During his time as editor-in-chief, Linde led a significant digital expansion, including improving the website; launching French language, Hebrew language, and Christian edition websites; adding online video elements; and building up the newspaper’s social media platforms. Linde also launched the newspaper’s popular annual policy conferences in New York City and Jerusalem.

“Borrowing from a phrase coined by our founding editor, Gershon Agron,” says Linde, “I would say we are the best Hebrew newspaper in English.”

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Posted on June 6, 2016 and filed under Features, Israel, U.S..