JTA in Crisis Mode After E-mail Dissing Bloggers

JTA Logo

Remember my post on How We Market Ourselves in Times of Crisis? You’re about to get an up front and personal look at one Jewish organization’s back pedaling after a major political gaffe.

On Friday, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) sent out an e-mail to its constituents asking for $50 donations to support its service. No problem, right? We all get plenty of those these days. But this one was different. In an apparent need to separate themselves from others sources of news delivery, JTA President Elisa Spungen Bildner wrote:

“JTA tells the story, so that our community stays informed. At this moment, JTA’s ability to tell these stories is threatened by the realities of the economic downturn. And, in the chaos of the information age in which we live, it is even harder to find the trusted voices on which we rely for independence and accuracy.

Without a strong JTA, the storytelling will be left to bloggers, twitterers, and non-professionals.  Is this the best way for our future Jewish stories to be told and recorded?

The emphasis is their own.

The Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man– Or, Bloggers, Twitterers, and Non-Professionals

Come again? Bloggers, Twitterers, and non-professionals? First of all, to equate Twitterers and bloggers is an insult. Without belaboring what should be an obvious point, users of Twitter communicate in 140 character missives, while blogs are intended to be well-researched, interesting conduits for conveying information and opinions. This is especially true in the Israeli and Jewish blogospheres, where the quality is particularly high.

And non-professionals? If we are defining a professional as someone who works for money, then yes, the JBlogosphere is filled with non-professionals, but this doesn’t make them any less committed. I see plenty of my blogging colleagues churning out up-to-the-minute content of the highest caliber on a daily basis.

—– Read More About Jews, Blogging, and the JTA’s Social Media Connections —–

How Can a Mistake This Big Be Explained?

What’s behind this message that was likely sent to tens of thousands of recipients? It could be the ongoing stories about journalistic publications in crisis, like the Boston Globe’s threatened collapse, or it could be a Rupert Murdoch’s recent advice that online newspapers will need to charge readers or sink into the economic black hole. Or maybe, they’ve been reading the Forward‘s Liel Leibovitz, who’s been wrote “Communication Breakdown: Dispatches from the Virtual World.” With regard to blogging and micro-blogging, Leibovitz writes:

“Examining this thinning of language — these starved forms of communications that favor the quick and the inconsequential while remaining unsuited for thoughts that may take space to unfold and time to read — it is easy to succumb to a technologically deterministic depression and declare the end of intelligent civilization near.

But since Jews have been forever defined — even constituted — by our relationship with the book and, as a result, with the written word at large, we must pay special attention to these winds of change. Without being unduly alarmist, one can say that the Internet may be killing off the Jewish mind.”

Are Blogging & Micro-Blogging Responsible for a “Communication Breakdown”?

Liel Liebovitz

Liel Liebovitz

I tend to hate doomsday predictions like this one (“the Internet may be killing off the Jewish mind”), but a statement of such ignorance particularly raises my hackles at a time like this.

When I began blogging in August 2007, one of my goals was to bring together the global community of Jewish voices. At the time of The New Jew’s creation, there was a void of Jewish content on the internet. Jewish organizations were meeting their programming goals on the ground, but little existed for those not formally aligned with community organizations.

Now, a mere year and a half later, the virtual Jewish world is a ripe expanse of community building where Jews can share ideas and converse with each other on equal footing. Leibovitz’s assertion that blogging is a “starved form of communication that favors the quick and inconsequential” couldn’t be more off-base. Furthermore, it’s a particularly odd critique for a professional writer specializing in Jewish culture to make.

Lisa Colton, founder and president of Darim Online, gets it right when she responds to Leibovitz, saying:

“Throughout Jewish history, we have devised creative and innovative means to communicate with one another, to preserve our religion, heritage and identity, and to evolve new strategies to keep it alive, relevant and vibrant.We lit fires on mountaintops to transmit the declaration of a new month, and went so far as to write down an oral tradition in order to keep ourselves connected over time and distance.

Microblogging is hardly radical. While many use it frivolously, many are using it in valuable ways, far beyond “speculation and whim”. This is an opportunity to spread knowledge and insight, and to foster deeper connection.”

Dan Sieradski (JTA)

Dan Sieradski

JTA’s Social Media Connection

Perhaps the most confusing part of the JTA’s message is that in the last year, and most particularly since Dan Sieradski became the Director of Digital Media, the site and its delivery method have undergone a huge change.

If you haven’t visited the JTA recently, take a look. What do you see? The content is newly streamlined and promoted most heavily are, yes, the blogs: the Telegraph, the Fundermentalist, and Capital J, as well the JBlogs, in which bloggers can add their own content to the JTA’s site.

Moreover, Jacob Berkman’s Fundermentalist blog focusing on Jewish giving is by Sieradski’s word, the #1 destination on the JTA site.


What’s the story here? Are the JTA’s own blogs showing them how truly powerful a medium blogging can be? Are they being hit so hard by the economy that they have to separate themselves from their closest competitors, self-identified as the blogs? Whatever it is, the message of the site, heavy with a new media blog-based design, and its blogging and twittering staff, do not align with the negative heavy handedness of its organizational message. Be on the look-out for some back pedaling in the near future.

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15 Responses to JTA in Crisis Mode After E-mail Dissing Bloggers

  1. Dan says:

    Based on Dan Sieradski’s comments, as you also infer in your conclusion, the only possible reason for the JTA’s public attack against the independent blogging community as they see us as a threat to their business model. Plain and simple.

    What is also interesting is the JTA sent a second, and different, fundraising letter to those they identified as Jewish communal professionals. Absolutely no mention at all of those who blog. One wonders why they didn’t attempt the same message here.

    • Maya Norton says:

      Targeted fundraising letters are a good thing, but it’s odd that a letter going to bloggers and new media readers would insult their work to their face, especially when the JTA is moving in the direction of using blogs to support their efforts, which I think is a good thing.

      It’s too bad that this is something that’s gaining them attention because:

      1) They do need the financial support and advocacy of the community in order to flourish in a way that they are currently struggling to do

      2) Their work and content delivery is important and actively striving to be innovative in a way that no other Jewish publications are currently accomplishing

      I hope we can move past this as soon as possible, letting it be a lesson.

      ~ Maya

    • Maya Norton says:

      By the way, if bloggers cared about making a statement about this, the way to go about it would be to submit content to the JTA’s JBlogs section, which is currently unmoderated.

      ~ Maya

  2. Dan says:

    Did you catch on CK’s post what the JTA’s own Dan Sieradski had to say on this, on Twitter no less: “agrees entirely that today’s JTA membership email was ill-advised and has made it known to the powers that be.”

    Dan does know the blog-o-sphere. I wonder if he warned “the powers that be’ what was in store for them.

    • Maya Norton says:

      Yes, I saw Dan’s tweet and CK’s publication of it. I thought about it including it when I was writing this post, but decided it ill-advised to re-broadcast.

      “Ill-advised” seems to be the name of this game.

      As for the powers that be, I think they know what’s coming for them at this point. Interested to see if there will be a public reaction.

      ~ Maya

  3. […] but for yet another perspective, read Maya Norton’s post “The JTA in Crisis” on The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy where she concludes with a prediction: What’s the story here? Are the JTA’s own blogs showing […]

    • Dan says:


      I appreciate your response to what has been said over the past few days on the blog-o-sphere. But, I am also quite disappointed that it came from you (regardless of your position in the JTA). The feelings that Elisa’s solicitation email brought forth deserve a formal response from her, as both the author of the email and President of JTA.

      On a related note, and lost in all the various comments is that the solicitation email asks us “to join JTA by becoming a member of our online community. For just $50…”

      Membership implies certain benefits not available to non-members. What exactly are the benefits of JTA membership?

  4. JTA President Elisa Spungen Bildner responds: http://is.gd/qWxw

  5. Marya Eiden says:

    I need some advice for my blog….I like your layout. Can you help me?

    • Maya Norton says:

      Dear Marya,

      Your link takes me to a commercial website. If you as an individual are interested in help for your own personal blog, I’m happy to lend a hand. Just let me know.

      ~ Maya

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