Editor’s Notebook: Fairness and the Federation

Editor’s Notebook: Fairness and the Federation

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

People often speak to me at events, usually prefacing praise for the improvements to the AJT with comments about how long they have subscribed to the newspaper. So when a familiar face approached me after the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta annual meeting and started by mentioning that she’s a 30-year subscriber, I expected her to offer a few words of appreciation.

She burst my immodest bubble.

Suffice it to say she has not been pleased with our coverage of Federation — more because of the tone and perceived attitude than because of the actual content, if I followed her criticism through the fog of disappointment at the reminder that the AJT is not universally beloved.

Her final words, however, stuck with me: “We’re not bad people.”

Of course, she’s right. Federation is an organization of more than 1,300 professionals and laypeople whose No. 1 motivation is to do good for the Jewish community. Bad people — or, to be less judgmental, people driven primarily by self-interest — don’t commit the time, money and energy Federation requires.

If I have left a different impression in my articles or those written by others, I apologize. I have friends and acquaintances who are active in Federation, and their involvement alone is a testament to the value and importance of the organization’s work.

AJT Editor Michael Jacobs
AJT Editor Michael Jacobs

The organization, however, is not the same as the individuals it comprises. While Federation’s mission is good, it is fair and necessary to question how it operates, how it serves the community and other nonprofit organizations, and how it adapts to the changing realities and demands it faces.

Federation itself will be going through an extensive but well-meaning evaluation once Eric Robbins takes over as CEO in August. He has rightly declared that Federation must change to remain the core organization of Jewish Atlanta.

While Robbins has not provided a full vision for Federation, explaining that the vision must be a product of the whole organization, not one person, he has offered promising hints. Most important at the annual meeting Tuesday, June 6, he said Federation must eliminate the barriers at the gateways to community involvement. (Read more on the annual meeting.)

That’s a concept of a community-building Federation I’ll happily endorse.

Still, it’s fair to say I’m not a Federation cheerleader. I’m not pro-Federation, but I’m not anti-Federation either. I’m pro-Jewish Atlanta, a bias I believe I share with just about everyone active at Federation.

As an independent media outlet covering Federation — Jewish Atlanta’s largest nonprofit in terms of money raised and spent and the closest thing we have to a unified communal leadership — the AJT must remain neutral on Federation’s actions while always supporting what it is trying to achieve.

As an organization, Federation carries the continual burden of justifying its existence — as, of course, does the AJT. While Federation, like the AJT, deserves the assumption of good intentions toward the Atlanta Jewish community, we can’t help but question certain actions and decisions and even provide a bit of constructive criticism from time to time.

I hope people within Federation accept those questions and criticisms as being in the best interests of the community and Federation’s mission, just as I try to take critical comments from Federation leaders and others as being motivated by a desire to keep this newspaper vital to a vibrant community.

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