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.

"Don't you see that they [the investors] are back with intrigue?" Wisch later asks me.

No, not really.

"They made their own investments; they lost money, and now some of them served on this committee that is using charity money, without the general community ever having been told. Just an in-group that is out to serve their original purpose...yes, a vendetta."

Or else the paranoid musings of a man who believes his life's work is under attack.

In June 1999, after the committee completed its study, Belofsky and two other committee members met with Wisch to discuss "how [the] federation could make the Texas Jewish Post a better newspaper," Wisch says. In a meeting at Belofsky's office, Wisch told them. "First thing, I want your federation [donor] lists." With that list, he could build circulation, increase advertising, and perhaps raise the quality of the paper. But the federation had a proprietary interest in that list, which it jealously guards, even with its own charities.

"[Belofsky] said the list is unattainable," Wisch says. "And that was the main topic of conversation."

A week later, Belofsky sent Wisch a letter inviting him to submit a written proposal for "a new, expanded version of the Texas Jewish Post." Four other publishers of existing Jewish newspapers were also invited to submit proposals for "the possibility of publishing a Jewish newspaper in Dallas...an independent voice that tells the story of a people and a community."

Wisch was suspicious of the federation's motives. After showing no interest and some animosity for so many years, suddenly they wanted to help him become a better paper? What business did the federation have telling him how to run his business? He interpreted their attitude as an attempt at "editorial domination" and had no intention of submitting a written proposal. He phoned Belofsky and told him, "I was sitting in your office, and I told you what I wanted--the list. Why don't you tell this to your people?"

Other papers offered more specific proposals, and one in particular, the Washington Jewish Week, emerged as an attractive and willing alternative to the Texas Jewish Post. The Washington Jewish Week, based in Rockville, Maryland, had been an award-winning family-owned newspaper that had gained a certain cachet on Capitol Hill for its incisive political coverage. In 1999, the paper was sold for an undisclosed price to Capital Jewish Publishing, a subsidiary of NewsCo., which owns a large chain of secular newspapers around the country. The Jewish Week was its first Jewish paper.

The new owner, according to a May 1999 article in the Washington Business Journal"gained control of a publication beleaguered by financial woes and inflated circulation figures." The Journal also reported that Capital Jewish Publishing had been accused by former and current employees of "cultural insensitivity" and "diminishing the quality of editorial content." Craig Burke, the paper's new publisher, claimed these complaints were largely attributable to belt-tightening measures. He did not return a Dallas Observer phone call requesting an interview.

On June 27 this year, the Dallas federation's board of directors accepted the proposal of Capital Jewish Publishing to "publish a quality weekly Jewish newspaper in Dallas." In return, the federation promised that it would guarantee the newspaper chain 6,000 paid subscribers at an introductory price of $18 each, for the first year of publication only. To build circulation, the federation's mailing list would also be made available to the publisher.

Wisch says he had heard rumors that the federation had made a deal with an out-of-town paper, but he was inclined not to believe them, particularly after he spoke to Craig Burke, who phoned him several times in early July and offered to buy the Texas Jewish Post. He and NewsCo. Chief Executive Officer Ryan Phillips were ready to talk business; they could fly down immediately and negotiate a deal. But Wisch hesitated too long. His wife was sick; he had a paper to get out, and the calls stopped coming.

At the same time, Wisch began tapping his sources and learned that the federation had closed the deal with Capital Jewish Publishing. Outraged that the federation was subsidizing a for-profit enterprise with non-profit perks, he fired off a letter to federation president Stephen Waldman (whose bar mitzvah photos appeared in the Post decades ago). He condemned the deal as an "act of unilateral favoritism...detrimental to the independence of Jewish journalism." He demanded that he be afforded the same treatment "to level the playing field."

That never happened.

Wisch phoned Gary Weinstein at the federation, who instead encouraged him to sell to Capital and offered to be his intermediary. "I think they suspected there would be some community outrage if it ever got out, the way they treated me," Wisch says, "and it would be much more placid if I was bought out."

But no more calls were forthcoming, and Jimmy Wisch was anything but placid.

He used the power of his press and began a blistering attack on the federation. Week after week he assailed its actions as "fallacious" and "clandestine"--"a shanda...that will live in the annals of Jewish history."

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