I just received a link from a friend of mine for an online petition. This particular cause is actually one that is close to my heart. It purports to attempt to save the beleaguered Canadian Jewish News from extinction. After 42 years of service to the Jewish community, the CJN has found itself in much the same position as many other print publications, (some much larger papers with far bigger circulation numbers) and has announced that it will be shutting down in two months time. I want to state up front that I am a regular reader and a paid subscriber of the CJN and have been for a very long time. And while I do take issue with some of its editorial policies and its tendency to ignore or act dismissive of Reform synagogues not named Holy Blossom, I am a supporter of the paper and its mandate. So what I am about to state might strike many of you as odd.
This petition is silly.
I get that we as a community are upset about the loss of an institution. We should be. But signing an online petition like this one accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Who are you petitioning? The publishers? Don't you think they want to save the paper and the jobs of the people who work for it?
Who are you hoping will be affected by this petition? A donating angel? Good luck with that. Why would any single person throw good money into what is obviously a losing enterprise?
The CJN's problems are many. They have a shrinking advertising base that has become convinced that there are better ways to reach their target audiences than by placing a (frankly!) very expensive quarter to half page in a weekly with a small circulation. Their online edition is poor at best, with a difficult to navigate site, little advertising (MONEY!!) per se, and chunks of the paper aren't even available there. They have been slow off the mark with social media and don't do a great job with either their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Their core readership is aging and they are obviously having trouble attracting younger subscribers. And don't even get me started with the homogeneity of their columnists and editorials. Differing perspectives on a wide range of topics would be nice! These problems aren't new. Ask The Toronto Star, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail or any of the other thousands of print publications that have recently hidden content behind paywalls. The internet has changed the way newspapers function and those that have been slow to react are paying the price.
But why is the petition silly?
Because it does nothing to address the core problems that the CJN is facing. If every one of those signing were to subscribe, my guess is it still wouldn't be enough. Are you signatories all willing to pony up? Are you willing to put your money where your names are? Are you willing to advertise? Are you willing to pay for content? Are you willing to donate? Are you willing to fund this proposition?
The CJN is worth saving in spite of the issues that I have outlined. As a Canadian Jew, I want a publication that informs and provokes and provides needed data for my community. But it also needs to adapt itself to the realities of the twenty-first century.
Sorry folks. Let's find a better way to help than an entreaty that isn't even worth the bytes spent typing our names.