At annual JSPA conference, speakers describe where journalism meets Judaism
Award-winning reporters and 'Woman in Gold' attorney address high schoolers from L.A., N.J., Memphis gathered in Los Angeles. Former White House Jewish liaison is surprise guest.
Award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman held students in rapt attention for more than an hour Jan. 7 as he described his approach to business reporting and how he manages in journalism while observing Shabbat and other mitzvot.
Speaking at Friday night dinner at the Fourth Annual Conference and Shabbaton of the Jewish Scholastic Press Association, Mr. Zuckerman — who has won the Loeb Award three times and was one of the conference’s two keynote speakers — said he reported on business in terms of personal stories, whether about leaders of huge corporations on Wall Street or the developers of new technology such as “fracking” in North Dakota.
Students from Shalhevet, YULA and Milken high schools in Los Angeles, along with Kushner Yeshiva High School of New Jersey and Goldie Margolin High School of Memphis, Tenn. , attended the conference, which was held at Bnai David-Judea Congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
Mr. Zuckerman said that to be Jewishly observant in any job, the important thing was to tell employers everything right at the beginning. Editors and fellow reporters at the Journal, he said, had been extremely supportive of him over the years, while reporters who wished to add Shabbat observance later on did not think they could.
The Loeb Award is the highest honor in business journalism.
Thursday night’s keynote speaker was attorney C. Randol Schoenberg, best known as the crusading attorney in the hit movie Women in Gold, about his work retrieving Jewish-owned art that had been looted by the Nazis. Instead, he described his journalism background, and his work to gain access to FBI Director James Comey’s search warrant of Anthony Wiener’s computer, which was written up in the New York Times.
The conference also featured a surprise guest speaker at Saturday lunch. Chanan Weissman, who had served as White House Liaison to the Jewish Community under President Barack Obama until the day before. Weissman spoke to students in a private home in the Beverlywood neighborhood.
Taking questions for about an hour from students and some parents and community members, Mr. Weissman shared details of President Obama’s actions toward Israel, and also described what it was like personally to be in the Oval Office and work behind the scenes.
Other highlights of the conference were:
- Jennifer Medina, LA-based National Correspondent for the New York Times, described how the Times handles criticism, then asked students for examples of when they’d been criticized and gave concrete suggestions as to how to handle it.
- In a talk on journalism and Jewish law, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea said journalism seems incompatible with the laws of lashon harah, but in reality is necessary to prevent grievous harm and to inform society in general about things that would otherwise go unnoticed. He gave examples such as rabbinic sexual abuse of students in New York, a rabbi’s photographing women in the mikvah in Washington, D.C., and a rabbi’s taking naked saunas with students in Riverdale, N.Y., all of which were known but allowed to continue until the media began to expose them. Rabbi Kanefsky then offered a halachic template for how Orthodox reporters might look at their work – surprisingly, derived from Talmud discussions about wounds and blood-letting.
- Rob Eshman, Editor and Publisher of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, talked about the paper’s internal deliberations over how to cover Trump, and the paradox of Mr. Trump’s having Jewish immediate family on the one hand yet seeming to encourage the “alt-right” on the other. He also described how Jewish newspapers in the U.S. have a tradition of reporting stories that others wouldn’t, including the first reports – then discounted – about the mass murder of Jews happening in Europe, and said this legacy should continue.
- David Nimmer, one of the nation’s top copyright experts, gave an extremely lively and engaging lecture on copyright law and, like Mr. Zuckerman, had the kids begging for more, asking questions far beyond his pre-planned time of 50 minutes. At one point he performed a “citizen’s arrest” of some students’ newspaper for misuse of a song clipping on a sports video.
- Leading intellectual property attorney Joseph Lipner presented some hilarious scenarios about a fictional Jewish high school in Birmingham, Alabama, in his workshop on press freedom in religious high schools.
- Kathleen Neumeyer of Harvard-Westlake (now retired) talked about conflict of interest, and why the a school paper’s editor-in-chief should not be the student body president. Ms. Neumeyer also gave a workshop on page design, where she critiqued work that had been brought by conference attendees.
- Eric Nusbaum, West Coast Sports Editor for ViceSports.com, told students how to take sports reporting beyond coverage of their high school sports teams, and also offered advice on how to get started in journalism. Even high schoolers, he said, can submit articles, and if they’re interesting and well-written they may well find an audience.
- Zev Hurwitz, public policy graduate student, Wexner Youth Leadership fellow, and former Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian at UC San Diego, talked about how to avoid charges of bias when covering Israel- and Jewish-related topics on campus in college media.
- Former journalist Julie Fax explored the question of how to cover one’s own community while still living in it, and former Jewish Journal Executive Editor Susan Freudenheim, now Executive Director of Jewish World Watch, described how good interview technique was useful both in journalism and beyond.
In addition, three talks were given by high school students. Alec Fields, Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Boiling Point at Shalhevet High School, gave a talk on how and why to include a Torah section in Jewish school newspapers, and along with Boiling Point Web Editor-in-Chief Jordan Levine gave a second talk on how to integrate a website and social media with print news coverage.
The Editors-in-Chief of the Harvard-Westlake Chronicle, Jesse Nadel and Sammi Handler, described how they covered controversies and handled relations with their school’s administration.
The Jewish Scholastic Press Association is jointly sponsored by Shalhevet High School, the American Jewish Press Association, Bnai David-Judea Congregation and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
An annual contest, the Fourth Annual Jewish Scholastic Journalism Awards, received dozens of entries this year and is in the process of being judged. Winners will be announced later this spring, with the Grand Prize being an internship at the Jewish Journal or a local Jewish newspaper where the student resides.
For further information on the JSPA, please contact Executive Director Joelle Keene at [email protected].