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Thursday, December 25, 2014

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Groundswell of support to save The CJN

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“Save The CJN” logo created by online supporters of the paper

There has been a community outcry over last week’s surprise announcement of The CJN’s impending closure, much of it online and from the young.

With a rallying cry of “Save the Canadian Jewish News!” a group calling itself “The Brain Trust” launched an Internet-based support site on April 24 – two days after CJN president Donald Carr announced that the print edition of the paper would cease June 20 – that has since garnered more than 3,000 digital signatures and 45,000 page views.

The site also asks readers for their ideas and opinions on the best ways to develop a viable plan to save the paper. As of Monday, the site had recorded “thousands” of suggestions from supporters, members of the group say.

“Save The CJN is a grassroots movement with a plan to keep the legacy of Canada’s only independent Jewish newspaper publishing for many years to come. We are your voice and you are ours,” reads the “about” blurb on the petition’s website, which can be found at www.savethecjn.com.

Co-founded by two young professionals in Toronto – Rachel Singer, 29, a digital media specialist and journalist who started her photo-journalism career with The CJN, and Alana Kayfetz, director of strategic planning at the Jewish Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) – the site is the first step toward ensuring there’s a “place at the table” for all Jewish voices in the community, Singer told The CJN.

She said she and Kayfetz were motivated by their love of the paper, as well as the knowledge that their peers all felt saddened and shocked at the news.

“The decision was sudden, and it just felt like the community wasn’t consulted. We felt this decision [to close the paper] shouldn’t be made by just a few people” at the board level, Singer said.

Despite declining revenue and a drop in subscriptions, both she and Kayfetz say there are many young Jewish professionals in the community whom they believe would read and subscribe to The CJN if it was marketed toward them.

“It has a following of all ages. As a 29-year-old, I know the support is out there,” Singer said. “We want our [Jewish] news to come from an unbiased, independent standpoint.”

Asked what their plan is with regard to the Save The CJN campaign, Singer said she first wants to “unearth” the youthful following of the paper using viral marketing techniques.

Their next step, she said, will be to ensure that she and Kayfetz will represent the young professional Jewish community in any decision-making effort where plans for the rebirth or rebranding of the paper are discussed.

“We’re collecting people with expertise and we want to be that voice at the table,” she said. “It is our objective that an online business plan is put in place… a sustainable business plan, not just for 10 years, but forever.”

Asked whether any financial backers are part of her group, Singer said that “people have come forward,” but she said she would not offer any names until they are ready to make themselves known.

She added that many of her peers and supporters of the campaign are children of well-known leaders in the community, and they can’t bear to see the paper disappear.

“We’ll keep yelling until somebody listens. We won’t stop until the voice of the young professionals is represented and heard.”

Aside from the youthful outburst of support for the paper, others have also made their feelings known.

Numerous columns and blog posts by community leaders have come out forcefully in protest of the plan to shutter the paper.

In an April 25 blog post, Avrum Rosenzweig, president of Ve’ahavta, commented on the then-nascent movement to save the paper.

“Which way will this thing go? It’s hard to say, but I will state [that] the support the newspaper is getting from individuals of all ages and backgrounds is magnificent. It’s true you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

Bernie Bellan, publisher of the Jewish Post and News in Winnipeg, wrote on the CJN’s website that the closure of the paper would be “a great loss… not only to Torontonians, but Canadian Jews as a whole.”

The hue and cry have not gone unnoticed by the paper’s board of directors, and Carr issued a new statement on Monday that acknowledged the board’s ongoing efforts to save The CJN.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), also lamented the news last week.

“The CJN was probably our most important platform to connect with our constituency and inform them of emerging issues or advise them on initiatives we were pursuing on the advocacy agenda,” Fogel said. “Absent The CJN, it’s going to create serious challenges for us to ensure an adequate level of awareness of what we do, how we do it and ways [people] can become more directly engaged in the advocacy process.”

In Montreal, phone calls, emails and personal encounters have echoed sentiments in Toronto: disbelief has been quickly followed by such questions as, “What can we do? Who can we speak to? Who made this decision?”

Many are asking how dire The CJNs financial situation is, whether other options were considered and why the community wasn’t told closure was being considered. Many cling to the hope that The CJN will return online.

“When I first got the disturbing news, I did not want to believe it,” said Larry Rosenthal, a businessman who is active in a number of community groups.

“It is a loss to the community at large, and a more serious loss to the Jewish community… The crew at The CJN are professional and dedicated in reporting the local, national and international news. For many years, they supported the causes that mean so much to us.”

“This is awful news,” said writer Barry Lazar. “I wanted you to know how much I appreciated the work you have done over the years, week in and week out: solid, reliable writing and reporting. I looked forward to catching up on community news and info each week.”

“My heart is broken,” wrote Baruch Cohen, who at more than 90 years old, remains an active volunteer. “I am at a loss for words to hear The CJN is closing.”

“The CJN has been a mainstay of our Shabbat reading for many years,” wrote Seymour Mishkin, a physician.

“I want to express my sadness about The CJN’s closure,” wrote David Smajovits, who handles communications for Jewish National Fund. “I’ve literally grown up reading your articles every week.”

“Say it ain’t so…What can we, the public, do to reverse this decision?” asked retired insurance executive Hy Rissman. “Your reporting over the years kept our Jewish community so well informed.”

“I think the whole community is in shock,” wrote Shelley Lubiner Paris, a public relations consultant. “I can’t believe this important paper will close.”

“I am deeply shocked and can’t really believe they would shut down The CJN,” wrote Frederick Krantz, director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

“I, and the community, are devastated at the news of The CJN closing,” wrote Jennifer Shugar. “Every Wednesday, I snatch it from the mailbox and read it voraciously. This is a huge blow to all of us.”

“There is no question the paper has a loyal following,” Suburban and Jewish Tribune contributor Mike Cohen wrote on his blog. “This was obvious from the comments I received on my Twitter handle and Facebook when I posted the news of its demise. ‘What can we do?’ one person asked. ‘How are Jewish organizations going to get their word out?’ asked a local publicist.”

Behind-the-scenes dialogue between interested parties with “serious deep pockets” to save the paper are proceeding apace, according to one highly placed source in the community who spoke on condition of anonymity.

With files from Janice Arnold.

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