The Arizona Jewish Post was one of the first things that made Michelle Blumenberg, University of Arizona Hillel Foundation’s executive director, feel welcome when she moved to Tuscon in 1992.
“It was such a good paper and very hamash,” Blumenberg said. Coming from Ann Arbor, Michigan — a city with a large Jewish population — she was accustomed to reading the Detroit Jewish News with its focus on national and international stories. Prioritizing the local scene made AJP seem a breath of fresh air.
“It gave you a sense of what the community was about and made me feel welcomed — like I had a place,” Blumenberg said. “Absolutely everything was in there, and that’s how I knew what was going on.”
On March 1, AJP’s all-digital iteration comes to an end. Its content had been exclusively online since September, 2020. The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, the paper’s owner, shuttered the print operation and cut back on staff last July in an effort to ameliorate the paper’s finances. Unfortunately, those steps weren’t enough.
“Changes in the landscape of modern journalism, including a push to digital and a move away from a subscription-based model, exerted formidable pressure on the AJP over the course of many years,” said Graham Hoffman, Southern Arizona Federation CEO, via email. “When the global pandemic hit, with its considerable economic impact, the AJP was not in a position to withstand additional force.”
Richard Kasper, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, is sympathetic given that JCF owns Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.
“It is unfortunate they had to make this very difficult decision,” he said. “It’s rather remarkable to find ourselves as the only Jewish newspaper still publishing in Arizona.”
Lindsey Baker, Southern Arizona Federation COO, said, via email, “We have been very open with our community about the financial pressures facing the Arizona Jewish Post, and the steps we have taken to mitigate loss have been announced publicly.”
Kasper understands the financial pressures of the newspaper business too.
“This should be a wake-up call to the Phoenix Jewish community,” he said. “It costs money to publish a quality newspaper, and we’ve been fortunate to have some generous supporters and consistent fans. But if JN is going to avoid the fate of AJP, we’re going to need our fans to be subscribers, advertisers and donors as well.”
The Southern Arizona Federation is considering alternatives to continue coverage of lifecycle and milestone events as well as local news.
“To me, the heart of the Arizona Jewish Post lives on, regardless of what the packaging or branding around it is,” said Maya Horowitz, director of marketing, communications and events for Southern Arizona Federation. “We are open to considering new and different paths — or, indeed, existing paths — but our fundamental imperative is to provide our community with the stories that they care most about in a way that is sustainable for the Federation moving forward.”
Spotlighting local content was one of the newspaper’s founding principles.
The paper should “stress Jewish activity, Jewish identity,” Rebecca Rutz told the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Arizona Oral History Project in 1947. Rutz and her husband, Meyer, founded the paper in 1946. They insisted that “there cannot be too much local news,” according to the Arizona Memory Project.
For the last two decades, Phyllis Braun, AJP’s executive editor, was responsible for maintaining that ideal. She’ll miss writing profiles the most. “Talking to people and finding out about them is really what I enjoy doing,” she said.
Braun’s final story for the newspaper was an interview with Geraldine Brooks, a writer featured at this year’s book and author event put on by the Tucson Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee. Braun worked in the world of book publishing in New York before coming to AJP, and the event offered her the opportunity to dip her toe back into that world every year. She was gratified to cover it one last time.
“We are extremely thankful to Phyllis for her 25 years of service, award-winning journalism, strong work ethic and deep commitment to our community,” said Baker.
Longtime readers, like Jane Myerson, chair of a new Northwest Tucson Jewish Community group, said the end of AJP is a huge loss. “It filled a very important need in the community,” she said. Myerson also highlighted the coverage of local events and milestones. “It was a way to celebrate being Jewish in the Greater Tucson area,” she said. “Just putting events in the calendar doesn’t create community like the Post created it.”
Baker, a Tucson native, is sympathetic to the community’s disappointment.
“I deeply appreciate the paper’s important place in our community, and anticipate continuing to provide the same essential stories through different means,” she said.
Horowitz believes a transition to new ways of highlighting community events marks an evolution rather than an ending.
“I am looking forward to evolving the way that we interact with our community through new communication vehicles,” Horowitz said. “The pandemic has asked us to innovate in so many different spaces, and communications is one of them.”
Blumenberg, too, is hopeful that success lies ahead for whatever comes next in terms of sharing news and events with the community. But losing “a great institution” like AJP still stings.
“I’m just sad,” she said. JN