As you may have seen in the Daily Camera, a lawsuit has been filed against Congregation Har HaShem. A reader of Boulder Jewish News emailed us to see if we would “cover” this story.
We thought we would take this opportunity to share our point of view on what makes “Jewish community news.”
As many of you know, we have been active members of the Boulder Jewish community for 15 years. We have been members of many organizations, donors to many more, staff of some and volunteers at others. Our kids grew up here, became bar/bat mitzvah here, are in youth group and Hebrew High. Our parents now live here as well. We’ve interacted in some capacity with nearly every organization here and as a result, we have strong connections. That’s a long way of saying that we were already aware of much of what was in the Camera. And we chose not to “cover it” or “break the story.”
We created Boulder Jewish News as a community site and have invited all organizations to participate in sharing information. We have seen a great response and scores of people, including staff, volunteers and others, have posted articles which we’ve published. On rare occasion we have declined to publish something we felt was inappropriate.
Over the last several months, we’ve had more than one interaction with board members and staff about sensitive topics, not only at Har HaShem but at other organizations as well. We have had access to information that was “non-public.” The question for us has been, at what point is it appropriate for us to publish private information that might be sensitive to a particular organization? We may be partly clouded by our relationships in the community, but our perspective has been that until an organization is ready to make a public announcement, information we might have – about staff, boards, donors and finances in particular – could easily fall into the category of lashon hara. We wouldn’t be able to get the feathers back in the pillow.
As an aside, this is partly a function of how we were raised. In Dad’s professional life, he was privy to sensitive personal information about community members. The rest of us were the last to know – and we didn’t hear it from him. We only learned the info when the parties involved made it public. This ethic of trust and respect for personal information we extend to our community here.
That said, we have a strong belief that organizations have a responsibility to become more transparent. We are strong supporters of organization blogs and feature the feeds from existing blogs every day on BJN. Our advice to organizations struggling with difficult challenges is to tell your story, through BJN or your own website. Let the community hear what is going on from your own perspective. “Get ahead of the story: control your message” as it were. The new reality is that with email and the internet, it’s hard to control who sees your message. We know that at times, counsel might advise no comment. We’re certain there’s ground between saying nothing and saying too much. We think it’s better coming directly from the source, not from investigative reporting that we might do. This isn’t TMZ. Or the New York Times. Your story, your information belongs first and foremost on your own website. BJN is the mechanism for sharing it more widely through the community.
Local organizations should also understand that even things that seem to be “for your membership only” often have a wider sphere. You invite the community to your fundraisers. We are all your stakeholders. People thinking about moving to Boulder use Google just like the rest of us. What do you want people to find? What do you want prospective donors or members to see? Whose message will it be?
Could our perspective on this editorial approach evolve? Yes, depending on circumstances. But for now, we’re more interested in what we can do to support local Jewish organizations and the community we’re all building here, rather than turning over rocks to see what might be underneath.
Back to the question from our reader, about whether we’ll cover this story. First, we’ll publish press releases or other communications to keep the community informed about developments. Second, as we have done for several months, we’ll include links to “Newsy” articles from other sources (you’ll find the link to the Camera article there). We do not lift content from other sources and simply republish it, but the Newsy links are refreshed fairly frequently. Finally, if there’s more to cover, we’ll continue to use our judgment about the timing and depth of coverage.
We look forward to your feedback.
David & Cheryl