Paper Chase

Texas Jewish Post Publisher Jimmy Wisch says he's being run out of town by leaders of the community he has served for 54 years. They say he's overstayed his welcome.

"Historically, federations have felt that it is important for them to get their fundraising message out in a credible vehicle," says Cohn, whose St. Louis paper is a "constituent agency" of his city's federation. "Often, if your paper is reporting international and national news, there is a competition for space, and this way, federation is guaranteed a certain amount of coverage in the news well."

Depending on the closeness of those ties, it may also guarantee them a certain amount of editorial control. "There are so many different stories, where federation swore independence to its editors, and when the editors tried to be independent, they got shut out," says Jerry Lippman, editor of the Long Island Jewish World, which has been in a long-running newspaper war with the New York Jewish Week. "Editor after editor--if they took a political position that was different from the federation board, they got their heads cut off." (New York Jewish Week has a "business relationship" with its city's federation, but maintains it has "total editorial independence.")

Wisch can list only a few instances in which he ran articles whose content was critical of the federation and raised the ire of its leaders. Surprisingly, the first challenge to his paper didn't come from federation but rather from a for-profit monthly, Dallas Jewish Life, which began operation in 1992 to considerable acclaim.

Wisch has gone on a weekly attack against the federation, using the power of his press to point to how unfairly he believes the Jewish fundraising organization is treating him.
Mark Graham
Wisch has gone on a weekly attack against the federation, using the power of his press to point to how unfairly he believes the Jewish fundraising organization is treating him.
The Wisches have every intention of continuing their paper, despite the challenge presented by Dallas Jewish Week, which begins publication in mid-November.
Mark Graham
The Wisches have every intention of continuing their paper, despite the challenge presented by Dallas Jewish Week, which begins publication in mid-November.

The magazine was everything the Texas Jewish Post was not: younger, glossier, more entertaining. Only local in scope, it vigorously reported on the Dallas Jewish scene. It didn't cover national, international, or hard news. And it didn't succeed. It never secured a strong advertising or circulation base and was given away. Wisch believes the magazine received support from federation, but its former publisher, Larry Postel, denies it. "We asked for federation help, but they refused," he says. "If they had agreed to help, we would still be in business today."

Wisch outlasted the competition by never changing and always charging. With age, his international globetrotting slowed down, and he relied primarily on the Jewish wire service for national and international news. Community charities sometimes complained that he didn't send reporters to cover local events, instead publishing press releases (often unedited) from the Jewish organizations that sponsored the events. He excerpted his own memoirs in a weekly feature, "My Father, the Publisher" (Wisch is the father). His thoughts also received page-one play in a column by "jess jawin" (his nom de plume). The design of the Texas Jewish Post remained reader-unfriendly--poorly packaged and hard on the eyes. But Wisch never missed an issue, working with his devoted wife seven days a week, in sickness and in health. If left to his own devices, he would probably find a way to publish the paper posthumously. If only circumstances, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, hadn't conspired against him--or so he believes.


The Jewish Dallas of Jimmy Wisch's early years, the one that felt compelled by anti-Semitism to quietly blend in with the community at large, scarcely exists now. Certainly there are remnants of the old way: a cautious attitude that looks at the nomination of the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and worries whether it's good for the Jews. But the sons and daughters of the past have mostly refused to inherit their parents' insecurities about anti-Semitism. In this community and others, there has been a flowering of things Jewish, a roots consciousness, a pride in Israel, and a search for Jewish meaning and ritual as the culture enters the new millennium. With the local Jewish population reaching 45,000, the community has become more diverse, and Jewish expression is no longer confined to the inside of a synagogue. Quality Jewish day schools compete for quality Jewish students. The Dallas Holocaust Center lectures thousands of public school children each year about the Jewish genocide. The orthodox movement has gained a strong local following as men in black walk the streets of North Dallas on their way to Shabbat services. No longer is there shame in having a Jewish newspaper; for the young federation leadership, the shame is in not having a better one.

In 1998, the federation decided that the expanding needs of the Jewish community were not being met by the Texas Jewish Post and did what most organizations do when they want to change something: form a committee. Headed by Dallas businessman Selly Belofsky, the newspaper study committee was charged with examining Jewish newspapers from around the country and identifying--after consulting with journalism and marketing experts--what it would like to see in a local Jewish newspaper. The federation did invite the Texas Jewish Post to participate in the process, but if its leadership knew Jimmy Wisch at all, they had to realize he would resist their lofty communitarian ideals. Big time.

"What mattered to [the] federation was growing the community," says Mark Briskman. "A quality Jewish newspaper is part of that growth and something we didn't have. Because there was a major campaign effort to expand and strengthen communal resources, the appropriate time to address the newspaper issue was now."

When Wisch received a letter from a federation staffer--Executive Vice President Gary Weinstein--informing him of the committee's mandate, Wisch says he phoned Weinstein and only wanted to know one thing: Was this committee stacked with any investors from the now-defunct Dallas Jewish Life? Possibly the same people who had tried to put him out of business once before? According to Wisch, Weinstein assured him that no investors were on the committee, but Wisch says he later learned that at least one investor was asked to join.

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