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January 27, 1989 - Image 52

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-01-27

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End Of An Era: The Decline
Of The Student Press Service

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Looking back
now, perhaps the
startling aspect
about the Jewish
Student Press
Service is not
that it has died,
quietly and with-
out notice, but that it sur-
vived for 18 years and truly
thrived for a time.
This is an attempt to give
the JSPS the obituary it
deserves, and to explain why
its demise marks the end of
an era of activism unique in
American Jewish life.
Lack of funding is being
blamed as the culprit here,
but JSPS never had proper
funding. And as Sam Norich,
a former student activist and
longtime supporter of JSPS
noted, "money is never the
reason why something starts
or ends."
Clearly, what started the
Press Service was Jewish
political passion. It was the
outgrowth of both the cam-
pus turbulence and the renew-
ed interest in Israel that took
place in the late 1960s. Fund-
ed by the North American
Jewish Students' Network
and a variety of establish-
ment Jewish organizations,
JSPS provided articles,
seminars, trips to Israel, and
an organizational base for
scores of Jewish student
newspapers across the coun-
try that had begun to spring
up after the Six Day War.
The budget was always
miniscule (never more than
$45,000), and the office was
always understaffed and over-
worked, but JSPS became a
leading resource for Jewish
student journalism. It was
also a haven, and voice, for ac-
tivists with a cause, often
critical of the establishment
in American and/or Israel,
who had no other means of
expressing themselves in a
Jewish context.
When David rnversky and
David Kaufman began the
Press Service in a small New
York office in 1970, they were
editing for a small group of
mostly radical Zionist cam-
pus papers
There was a strong sense of
change and excitement at the
time and the first national
editors conference, sponsored
by JSPS and attended by 30
student editors in New York
in 1971, was covered by the
New York Times and Village
Voiceas an indication of the
new fervor among Jewish col-

lege students. The young
editors came to hear jour-
nalists like Sidney Zion, Joe
Flaherty and Norman Pod-
horetz, to network with each
other and to debate issues
they felt were being neglected
by the Jewish establishment.
They wanted to write about
the Israeli peace movement,
the changing role of women in
Judaism and the growth of
the new Chavurah movement.
And they did. Their papers
gave voice to a range of
criticism and dealt with
Jewish student activity, or
lack of it, on the local cam-
puses. The problems the
staffs faced were enormous,
headed by lack of funding and
difficulty in recruiting incom-
ing students. But the sense of
purpose was palpable among
the small, dedicated number
of editors who cared. And in


The JSPS demise
marks the end of
an era of activism
unique in
American Jewish

its heyday, JSPS served as
many as 75 Jewish campus
papers and was honored by
the Council of Jewish Federa-
tions for its contribution to
Jewish journalism.
I had the privilege of ad-
dressing the annual editors
conference several times in
the 1970s and was always im-
pressed with the energy and
commitment of these ac-
tivists. They would meet in a
large upper West Side apart-
ment in Manhattan, dozens
of students sitting on the
floor, who wanted to learn
about the workings of the
Jewish organizational struc-
ture and how to produce good
newspapers. A favorite topic
was investigative journalism
— this was, after all, the post-
Watergate era when Wood-
ward and Bernstein were
heroes — and the student
editors were eager to take on
the Jewish establishment.
For its part, the establish-
ment looked upon, the Press
Service as a parent would an
adolescent, with a mixture of
annoynace and tolerance.
Organizations like the
American Jewish Congress,
ORT and others each came
through with a few thousand
dollars each year to keep the
operation going, but it was
always a struggle.
Somewhere in the late 70s

or early 80s, the JSPS
seemed to lose a bit of its pas-
sion. The students I address-
ed were better dressed,
quieter, and as willing to
listen as they were to speak
out. Fewer of them were in-
terested in careers in jour-
nalism. This wasn't surpris-
ing. They merely reflected the
changes that had taken place
at campuses throughout the
United States as students
became less idealistic and
more career-oriented.
The student papers were
less radical, less activist.
Some were quite professional
looking, but they were more
in the style of establishment
Jewish community news-
papers, supporting Jewish
causes like Ethiopian and
Soviet Jewry, as well as
Israel. The student press was
no longer an alternative to
the established Jewish com-
munity; it was part of that
This may be viewed as a
positive or negative sign. The
point is that there was less of
a need for a national Press
Service to act as a network-
ing agent and link between
the campus and the establish-
ment. Despite repeated emer-
gency meetings and efforts to
sustain the Press Service, it
effectively stopped function-
ing this past year. The sad
part is how few noticed.
Sandy Gruenfeld, a junior
at the University of Mary-
land, is managing editor of
Mitzpeh, one of about a dozen
Jewish student papers still
appearing regularly around
the country. Gruenfeld is pro-
ud of Mitzpeh, and rightly so.
The paper has won several
journalism awards, appears
bi-weekly and has a circula-
tion of about 4,000. But
Gruenfeld knew little of JSPS
and was surprised to learn
that a decade or so ago, it
served dozens of Jewish stu-
dent papers.
Several weeks ago, there
was an effort to hold the an-
nual student editors con-
ference in New York but only
six editors were there.
Still, looking back, the
JSPS was a success story,
surviving almost two decades
as a labor of love; serving as
a training ground for a
number of professional jour-
nalists, including several with
Jewish publications.
The reality today, though,
is that if there is an alter-
native Jewish voice on cam-
pus today seeking expression,
there is no Jewish Student
Press Service to hear or
transmit it. ❑

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