JewThink was founded on a wing and a prayer. Now comes the hard part…
There’s no getting round the fact that publishers require policies. A publication or a platform for publication might be set up out of idealism and a desire to just get ‘stuff’ out there, but sooner or later the question inevitably arises: What do we not include?
I write this at a time when boundaries and ‘red lines’ in publishing have become more contested and controversial than ever before. Publishers that are ‘open platforms’ – such as Facebook – have been dragged reluctantly towards acceptance of their responsibilities and the need to curtail certain kinds of speech. Publishers of publications that aspire to be a home for a broad range of viewpoints – such as the New York Times – have also found it almost impossible to reconcile competing views on the limits of expression in their pages.
JewThink will inevitably have to make some decisions about what to include or exclude on its virtual pages. But is there a creative way of doing this? Does there have to be a formal code? Do we have to rule certain sorts of people and certain sorts of content permanently out of bounds? Perhaps these issues could best be addressed in a kind of ongoing conversation.
Perhaps JewThink could be edited in a more fluid way, responsive and alive to the ebb and flow of Jewish conversation. So here is a contribution to that conversation; a set of principles that may or may not be useful as JewThink develops:
- JewThink’s editorial policy needs to be bespoke.
It shouldn’t need to be said – although in reality it usually does – that different publications serve different audiences and serve different functions. It is perfectly reasonable to set up a publication that is tightly focused on a particular audience, written by a contributors who share a common viewpoint. It is also reasonable to set up a publication with a broader audience and set of contributors in mind. JewThink is likely to lean more to the latter than the former, but the limits of its pluralism – or even whether it should define itself as pluralist – may be entirely unique to it. It follows then that JewThink’s editorial policy should also be unique to it, rather than taken ‘off the shelf’ from another publication.
- JewThink is rooted in the British Jewish experience
JewThink was created by people who are engaged in British Jewish life and community. That is neither a source of shame or of pride, but a recognition of the reality that the core of the publication is likely to speak from particular standpoints. What these standpoints consist of is open to constant reinterpretation. At the same time, contributors who are neither Jewish nor based in British are welcome and content that is neither of specific Jewish nor British interest will appear. However, the sum total of contributions to the publication should lean in a British Jewish direction.
- JewThink seeks to nurture ‘critical parochiality’
JewThink is not a platform for simple gossip and for tracking the everyday happenings of British Jewry. Nonetheless, we still seek to nurture a form of parochiality that is productive and useful. A concern for the small Jewish worlds where much of Jewish life takes place is to be encouraged, particularly when it is based on a critical, investigative perspective. JewThink welcomes serious investigative journalism on British Jewish community issues and organisations – but not rumours and defamation. In the event that a JewThink editor has a vested interest in an organisation that is investigated, they will recuse themselves.
- JewThink will acknowledge its da facto standpoint
While JewThink explicitly refuses to tie itself to a particular political standpoint, it is possible that its contributors, editors and content will, in their totality, lean towards a liberal-left perspective. JewThink will acknowledge the existence of such a de facto standpoint while still remaining open to other contributions.
- JewThink will not be ‘yet another’ outlet for well-aired opinions.
JewThink has no interest in becoming a platform for circular controversies. Opinion pieces and polemics will only be of interest if they cover new ground. The standard for evaluating contributions on controversial and contested issues will be whether they offer something new to the debate or are written in new and interesting ways.
- JewThink seeks to avoid excluding writers and content on the basis of political perspective alone
JewThink will exclude and will have red lines. However, principles of exclusion will not be based primarily on political perspectives so much as on how a contributor or contribution enacts those perspectives. JewThink acknowledges that it is possible to abuse, bully and defame in the service of almost any viewpoint.
- JewThink takes power seriously
Following on from the previous point, JewThink acknowledges that what is expressed cannot be disengaged from the platform from which it is expressed. Platforms differ in their powerfulness, as do authors. In considering content and contributors, JewThink will take into account how the author and JewThink itself is implicated in networks of power and privilege, as well as the vulnerability of those who may be critiqued. However, JewThink will also endeavour to not view power in absolute terms. Total powerlessness and total powerfulness are the exception rather than the rule.
- JewThink avoids essentialism
JewThink will not take a view on what an ‘authentic’ Jew or any other category consists of, although it will at times provide a platform to those who do take a view on such questions. JewThink will not select or exclude contributors solely in terms of one particular element of their identity, personality and history.
- JewThink seeks to encourage new voices
JewThink will not make a distinction between ‘writers’ and ’non-writers’. We encourage contributions in particular from those who have not yet published or who see themselves as ’not the sort of people’ who publish.
- JewThink will publish its payment rates and will pay uniformly
If at some point in the future JewThink is able to pay contributors, it will do so uniformly and payment rates will be displayed on the website. Well-known contributors will not be paid at different rates to less well-known ones. Payment will not be tied to how a post ‘performs’ in terms of driving traffic to the website.
How might these principles work in practice? Here are some case studies of highly contested issues:
- JewThink would be highly unlikely to publish an article by a well-known rabbi arguing that trans women should not call themselves women. On the other hand, JewThink would be open to (although would not actively solicit) a contribution from an anonymous resident of a Jewish women’s refuge expressing carefully-worded concerns that gender self-identification may cause issues in supporting women who have experienced domestic abuse.
- JewThink would be unlikely to publish an article advocating annexation of the West Bank. JewThink would be open to (although would be unlikely to actively solicit) an article from a resident of an Israel settlement in the Jordan valley who supports annexation, explaining what their everyday life in the settlement is like.
- JewThink would be unlikely to publish an article claiming antisemitism in the Labour Party is a myth. JewThink would be more open to an article from an anti-Zionist Jew who was a supporter of the Corbyn project, talking of their struggles to remain part of the ‘mainstream’ Jewish community.
- JewThink would be unlikely to publish an article complaining that the rabbi of a British synagogue had made them unwelcome in their community. JewThink would be open to a contribution from an investigative journalist, carefully-sourced, that accuses a particular rabbi of having a track record of inappropriate behaviour.