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The problem with the JC – not just right-wing journalism but bad journalism

Look I don’t mind that the JC under Stephen Pollard has become markedly more right-wing. It’s an independent publication and can take any stance it wants. Even if it’s right-wing, Pollard has the sense to attract occasional contrary views and apparently on a personal basis he’s quite a pleasant chap. Right-wingers can be good writers and journalists. Even Melanie Phillips is a diligent researcher.

The problem with the JC since Pollard took over last December is that its standards of journalism have deteriorated. First of all, it’s quite clear that Pollard is totally uninterested in anything that isn’t related to Israel or anti-semitism. It’s a rare week that doesn’t feature a cover story about these themes. We’re in the middle of a terrible recession and Jewish communal institutions are cutting staff left right and centre, yet coverage of this is usually shunted to the community section. Such issues effect Jewish life just as much as anti-semitism does but you’d never know it from the brave new JC.

Pollard’s JC can also be frankly lazy in its approach to stories. Take Leon Symon’s recent cover story on Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ discussions on whether to institute a boycott of Israel. The story was taken in its entirity from an e-mail to signatories that JFJFP had sent out.  There was no solicitation of a follow up comment from JFJFP. There was a reaction comment from Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Leadership Council. And that was it. Must have taken all of 10 minutes to write. The ‘research’ was simply reading an e-mail that either someone had sent them (it was sent to all of JFJFP’s signatories of which there are hundreds and anyone can join under a false name).

What the JC missed was a genuinely interesting story. JFJFP is clearly split between proponents of wildly different views on boycotts and much else besides. A decent journalist would have done some digging around, interviewed some of the competing parties and tried to stir up some kind of debate. Symon did none of these things and Pollard clearly didn’t push him. Symon is the kind of mediocrity that thrives in the current JC regime. It’s no surprise that one of the paper’s most dynamic and interesting writers, foreign editor Daniella Peled, has been suspended for the last few months for insubordination.

Ultimately, Stephen Pollard is a commentator and a blogger. Nothing wrong with that but he’s now editing a publication that, like it or not, plays a crucial part in Anglo-Jewish life. He has very little experience as a news journalist or an editor and his approach to the JC reveals this lack of investigative nous. He’s good at getting comment pieces to fill the paper, but he doesn’t understand that what makes a good blog post doesn’t neccessarily make a good piece of investigative journalism. A blogger would produce a story like the recent JFJFP piece, a journalist would go deeper.

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18 thoughts on “The problem with the JC – not just right-wing journalism but bad journalism”

  1. I’ve never been a great fan of the JC but it has certainly taken a tumble for the worst under Pollard. It reads like a cross between a really bad local paper and the Daily Mail. I thought that back in the 80s when its home news page was edited by a paid official of the Board of Deputies, that it couldn’t get much worse but it has. if you can bear it, check out Pollard’s blog on the JC website. It really is puerile, beyond belief.

    Fortunately in the age of the internet people can get their Jewish news from many other sources. Still the JC does have the redeeming feature of the bizarre things people write in the deaths columns; my personal favourite from a couple of years ago: “an inestimable loss to Jewish golf.”
    Now, how do you play Jewish golf?

  2. Sharron Livingston

    Itslikeahoneymooneverymonth If find your sweeping comment about the JC based on one news item is rather harsh. I do agree with Shtekhler that the JC has taken on a Daily Mail style, but human interest stories should be in the mix of editorial.

    Frankly after the days when the JC was all doom and gloom (i.e. the premise that everyone hates the Jews and then seeking out stories that prove it) its a breath of fresh air to read stories that education and broaden horizons.

    To pick out a single story that misses the mark and suggest the entire paper is going downhill simply shows that you haven’t been reading the paper lately. Pollard’s choice of editorial may not always be of interest to you, but a community newspaper like the JC has the unenviable task of reaching out to all echelons of the community. Difficult at the best of times, but Pollard is making a good effort and I am sure he will note your feedback with interest.

  3. But does anyone actually bother to read the newspaper or its website?

    Look at its website and the total lack of any reader comments to stories.

    That says it all, people are not reading or wishing to interact with the JC

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with this article – and it’s not based on “a single story”. The JC has gone steadily downhill ever since Pollard took over. A lot of the lightheartedness and humour have gone, and there has been an increase in photo spreads showing endless rich machers at shprauntzy affairs in London. The provincial communities have been marginalized even more than they were before. Views other than Orthodox are given short shrift. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a newspaper about Israel, not “the organ of Anglo-Jewry”. Hard to believe, but some of us Jews here in the UK do NOT want to make aliyah, and do NOT think Israel is the centre of our existence. I am fed up with the JC, frankly – it’s a big yawn. Very sad. I used to look forward to it. No longer.

  5. Jonathan Hoffman

    Stephen Pollard is an outstanding journalist and Editor who has rescued the JC. His predecessor appeared to have wanted to turn it into a kosher Guardian. At a time when antisemitism is at record levels and when the fallout from Cast Lead is very much still there, what do you expect a Jewish newspaper to feature….

    Anyway you’re wrong …

    “it’s quite clear that Pollard is totally uninterested in anything that isn’t related to Israel or anti-semitism”

    I must have been dreaming but I thought the JC devoted many column inches recently to the JFS ‘Sedley Judgment’ …

    As for Leon Symons – if you are going to badmouth another great journalist you could at least spell his name correctly

  6. Jonathan Hoffman commenting on jewdas! Who’d have thought! Muhammed comes to the mountain! Clearly he’s mastered the satirical genre at last with his ‘Stephen Pollard is an outstanding journalist’ line. Good stuff!

  7. People of course can sign up to jfjfp under false names, but we also have some very disloyal signatories who have signed up under their own names. They do not seem to care about the Palestinians and seem to have added their names for the soul purpose of causing trouble. I do suspect that the culprit here is David Hirsh who has devoted his life to fighting the boycott while saying nothng about the Gaza massacres… His ‘loyalty’ extends to attacking JfJfP’s former chair Richard Kuper, on his Engage web site.

    It was Hirsh who wrote to JfJfP suggesting that they took action on me for calling Israel ‘Satanic’ for a joke on a blog, and probably him who leaked the matter to the JC. I suspect that it was also him who earlier in 2006, leaked my internal paper proposing that jfjfp became more bold and adopted among other things, a stronger boycott policy. This was also on the front page of the JC but I was actually thinking that at least Daniella Peled bothered to interview us. Funny what’s happened to her – I didn’t know.

    Of course, I agree that the JC has gone downhill, but what do you expect from someone who used to be the editor of the Daily Express? I think calling it the Daily Mail is too kind- it’s more like The Jewish Sun.

    To give another of my own examples, last year, the JC refused to interview me over an event that I organised, saying that they’d already written a story….On reading the article, I saw that I was quoted and could not think where they got the quote from. I eventually realised that they’d got hold of an interview that I gave to a freelance journo, Simon Caldwell. They basically took out a quote from the middle of the journo’s notes which did not answer the previous point in the article, and took a sentence out from the middle of the quote, thereby losing its intended meaning! I found this out as I got the PCC to get hold of the notes. I think the journo here was also the rubbishy Leon Symons.

    Unfortunately, I lost my case, but I still maintain that I was quoted out of context and my quote was rendered misleading. Of course, Pollard gleefully announced this to the JC and the announcement itself was misleading as he didn’t give the relevant details of my complaint. All Pollard wrote was that the PCC ruled that I knew I was talking to a journaliist….He didn’t of course write that they also wrote that it was regrettful that they’d used this journalist’s notes and not interviewed me….

    One good thing that came out of it, was that when I initially complained to Pollard, he kept saying that this was the end of the matter and he didn’t want to spend any more time on it…I replied saying that it wasn’t up to him to decide as to whether the matter was over, and whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to spend more time on it…and he did, as I took the JC to the PCC….

  8. Itslikeahoneymooneverymonth is not just left-wing writing, it’s inaccurate writing.

    You can say what you like about the JC’s journalistic standards, but it’s absurd to label it ‘right-wing’. You provide zero evidence to support this claim. Melanie P is regularly humiliated by Freedland’s column, regular editorials berate right-wing Israeli politics (e.g. Lieberman, Nakba Law) and support the peace process etc etc.

    “it’s quite clear that Pollard is totally uninterested in anything that isn’t related to Israel or anti-semitism.” sshhhh. don’t let the column inches on the JFS/conversion fiasco get in the way of a chip on your shoulder.

    Left-wingers can be good writers, sadly you are not one of them. i wouldn’t fancy your chances getting this published anywhere apart from an obscure blog. you could always drop JSF a line.

  9. It’s fascinating that Jonathan Hoffman thinks the JC’s devotion of “many column inches recently to the JFS ‘Sedley Judgment'” is because it’s so open to debate.
    In recent months, the paper has been characterised by shallow, under-researched journalism that contorts news to fit a simple-minded agenda, and carries ‘features’ that would be rejected by a half-decent school magazine.
    The JFS coverage was unique — and astonishing — because the JC was obviously completely flummoxed about what line it was supposed to take. Should it follow our eminent leader and have a fight with the British state? Could the bowing and scraping JC take issue with the British Appeal Judges (one of them Jewish!)? So many high status people took opposing views that all the paper could do was spin round and wonder what to think. Since it had no choice but to cover the story, it gave space to a diverse and conflicting range of views and uniquely, actually reflected vibrant challenging debate within the community.
    And now our super-intellectual Chief Rabbi is moving to impose a religious practice test on applicants to Jewish schools. It will be interesting to watch the response of all those non-practising, thoroughly kosher families who would rather their children travelled 5 miles to school than be tainted by the hoi polloi at the local comp.

  10. Itslikeahoneymooneverymonth:

    “it [an e-mail] was sent to all of JFJFP’s signatories of which there are hundreds” – over 1,500, actually

    “There was a reaction comment from Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Leadership Council” – this was, unsurprisingly, distorted and inaccurate, including his description of JfJfP as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist – it is neither.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the JC covers the new Board of Deputies President, Vivian Wineman, who can certainly be described as a peace-nik, and who has already been criticised by Jonathan Hoffman in the Jerusalem Post.

  11. What exactly is the point of the Jewish Chronicle.

    In this day and age of online, the JC serves no real purpose other than showcasing hatch, match and dispatch in its pages.

    More people probably come to this site and post comments than the JC can ever achieve and that says something.

  12. Avatar photo

    Hatch, match and dispatch? Is it just me, or aren’t we overlooking the ‘on the social scene’ pages?

  13. The JC did cover the 1998 JFS Food March where pretty much everyone from year 10 staged a sit down protest outside the ex-head-mistresses office to protest against the schools appalling catering. They even reported the renegade split off march where a few students called for BLTs. Because of the JC’s single paragraph a new catering company was swept in within a week (which, if I remember correctly, served the tastier of two cardboard sandwiches for lunch). The power of the JC.

    I wonder if I ever remember the JC being mildly better than it is now. I mean it’s always been an ignorant and xenophobic rag, from its open racism towards Palestinians today to its open racism towards pogrom refugees.

    I’d be happy if Pollard coughed up his mothers milk but then I’d also smile if a lightning bolt hit the JC offices (whilst nobody was in, of course). The JC plays a core role in manufacturing the abyss of Jewish life in Britain today.

    We need something entirely new.

  14. My family make a very good microcosm of the typical readership

    My Aunt – Fearful right-winger turns to it for the endless propaganda on why we are so hard done by and at eternal risk.

    My Grandfather – a Jewish elder scanning through the pages to see if any one he vaguely knows has died recently.

    My Father – to have an excuse to complain about how the paper is only about North West London and that Kosher food is stupidly overpriced.

    My Mother – to lament that my friend’s arre all getting married and having babies yet her children have little and no intention.

    My Sister – to prop up her wonky legged chest of draws

    Me – With little other choice for reading I turn to it to help with the home cooked meal defecation.

    Frankly like most of the print media the JC is going the way of the stone tablet. As with anything past its prime the old fart has gone more right as a 1970s South American junta and a little senile to boot. I say order the meals on wheels and hope we get something in The Will.

  15. So Jonathan Hoffman hasn’t graced us wth his presence again…Shame, as I thought his comment was the most amusing.

    On the Just Peace UK list, Diana made some suggestions as to what the JC is good for, which I added to, advising her to write a book, ‘101 uses for the JC’.

    Here are some:
    Paper aeroplane, paper hat, wrapping up rubbish, floor protection when decorating, bonfires, loo paper, cat litter tray liner…or put it in the recycle bin and hope that it will be reincarnated as a Guardian /Independent…….

    Frank Fisher pointed out that we spend a lot of time reading and talking about a paper which we don’t like, so I admitted that I have a love-hate relationship with it – I love to hate it.

  16. The first thing to note is that the JC’s circulation has been in decline for some considerable time.

    Secondly it has never been a good paper in any conventional sense. It has been the paper of the Jewish establishment and that is why for example in the 1930’s it urged Jews to stay at home at the time of Cable Street rather than confront the fascists. That was the message of the Board of Deputies and the JC fulfilled its function in passing on the message. It did likewise when the National Front reared its head in the 1970’s.

    Thirdly to suggest the JC is in the peace camp because it has had critical editorials on e.g. Lieberman is to miss the point. It is because the JC is wedded to Zionism and Israel, right or wrong, that it recognises that having a fascist foreign minister hardly does much for Israel’s reputation (though these days very little does).

    Fourthly to suggest that Jonathan Freedland, a weak-kneed liberal Zionist is a counter-weight to Melanie Phillips or indeed Geoffrey Alderman it to grasp at straws. The last dissident columnist the JC had was the late Chaim Bermant. Alderman is a particular disappointment because 20-25 years ago he was a trenchant critic and resigned from the Board of Deputies to whistles and jeers.

    Fifthly the appointment of Pollard is a sign of desparation. Its manic pro-Zionism is designed to prove attractive to what the JC imagines to be the heartland of Jewry.

    What you won’t find in the JC, under any editor, is consistent coverage of the things that fill the internet, such as the story I posted on an Arab child barred from a nursery because she is not Jewish. If that happened anywhere else in the world the JC would be leading the charge. Routing deference to the IDF means that the JC isn’t, and never has, retained any sense of independence.

    It is true that the days of T R Fyvel, an associate of Orwell, are gone. But the appointment of Pollard is an attempt by the JC to survive an increasingly difficult climate for all the print media.

    One of the major criticisms of the JC, and this applies to the last 25 years, is that it doesn’t represent or articulate the concerns of secular Jews who don’t go to synagogues. Instead it treats the Board of Deputies as genuine representatives of British Jews when many of its constituent organisations are effectively rotten boroughs. That is why when it does cover the activities of non-Zionist or anti-Zionist groups it does it in the context of a typical tabloid hatchet job, e.g. the front page article a couple of weeks ago on JfJP.
    A more pertinent question might be why the Zionist Federation has appointed a clown, one Jonathan Hoffman, as its deputy Chairman.

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