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The Cleveland Jewish Publication Company is among five Jewish news outlets participating in a coordinated initiative to find more sustainable and impactful ways to deliver their journalism, supported by a leading philanthropic fund and professionals dedicated to advancing the efforts of news organizations in developing audiences and finding long-term sustainability.

The Jewish Journalism Fellowship, which kicked off March 1, is a new, yearlong program designed to help local Jewish news outlets like the Cleveland Jewish News and the Columbus Jewish News thrive in the 21st-century media landscape. A project of Maimonides Fund, the fellowship will support a cohort of local Jewish news organizations in strengthening their capabilities in the areas of audience development, organizational sustainability, and Jewish community engagement.

In addition to the CJN, the other publications selected for the first year of the program are: J. – The Jewish News of Northern California, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, the St. Louis Jewish Light and the TC Jewfolk (Twin Cities).

Participants will learn and apply digital best practices, new business models, revenue generation tools and explore other solutions to common issues facing Jewish media and Jewish communal life.

The idea for the fellowship came out of a desire to stem the tide of closures of local Jewish newspapers during the pandemic, according to Maimonides Fund President Mark Charendoff.

“We recognize the important role that these publications play in keeping their local communities informed and connected, particularly in times of crisis such as during the current pandemic,” Charendoff said in a news release. “We hope that this program will help each publication confront its own challenges, in a supportive, peer-driven cohort, while also beginning a conversation on how to move the field of local Jewish journalism forward.”

Representing the CJPC are:

Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the Cleveland and Columbus Jewish News and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company; Vice President of Sales Adam Mandell; Managing Editor Bob Jacob; and Digital Marketing Manager Cheryl Sadler.

Every member of the CJPC staff will have an opportunity to participate in aspects of the fellowship throughout the program year.

“The CJPC is honored to have been invited to apply and to have been selected as one of five participating publishers to participate in this extraordinarily important and timely fellowship,” Adelstein said. “We are grateful and appreciative of the Maimonides Fund for their focus and commitment to working with each of our organizations to help ensure a long and healthy future for local, Jewish journalism, in each of our communities.“

While maintaining a Jewish communal focus, the fellowship will draw from cutting-edge work being done in the field of mainstream local journalism and audience development, employing the programming model known as “Table Stakes,” which has been used by more than 100 local newsrooms across the United States and Europe to advance their work and impact. Table stakes comes from poker and refers to the seven things a media organization needs to do in order to be in the game of digital news. The program was originally developed by the Knight Foundation.

Maimonides Fund has brought in change management expert and Table Stakes co-founder Douglas K. Smith to facilitate this aspect of the program, in collaboration with Blue Engine Collaborative, a consortium of mission-first consultants and advisers with deep experience in supporting news organizations’ efforts toward digital transformation and long-term sustainability.

The Blue Engine team includes its founder and CEO, Tim Griggs, a former strategy and product executive at The New York Times and former publisher of The Texas Tribune; Ryan Tuck, a former editor at Bloomberg and journalist, audience development and product lead at McClatchy, Education N.C. and elsewhere; and Joanne Heyman, an experienced executive coach and strategic adviser.

The fellowship will infuse the table stakes format with programming specific to the concerns of local Jewish media professionals and the Jewish community. Staff from participating publications will learn from and with Jewish educators, journalists and thought leaders, and communal professionals, with the twin goals of further enriching the content they deliver to their readers, and exploring solutions to common challenges facing Jewish media and Jewish communal life.

This aspect of the program is being facilitated by Maimonides Fund staff, in consultation with journalist and researcher Alan D. Abbey, who has a long-term interest and track record in advancing the fields of Jewish and digital media. He is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Abbey founded Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahoronot’s English.

Further guidance is being provided by an advisory board that includes former New York Times religion columnist and journalism professor Ari L. Goldman; relational engagement expert and executive director of GatherDC Rachel Gildiner; Jewish historian Jonathan D. Sarna; and civic education specialist Tamara Mann Tweel.

Sessions for the fellowship will take place via Zoom, with the possibility of in-person convenings toward the end of the year, depending on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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