By ANGELA MAONE, Exclusive to the CCJN
The American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) announced yesterday, July 2, the election of CCJN editor Alan Smason as its new president, only the second time in its 76-year history that the organization’s top executive will be a New Orleanian.
The American Jewish Press Association is the nation’s largest group of Jewish magazines, newspapers, journalism freelancers and websites. Also, elected for the first of what is expected to be a total of three one-year terms on the executive board are: 1st vice president Ellen Futterman, editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, 2nd vice president Shana Goldberg, associate publisher and editor of Intermountain Jewish News in Denver and Carin Smilk, managing editor of the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS). Returning board members are treasurer Kevin Adelstein and secretary Bob Jacobs, both from the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company.
In 2005, Smason became aware of the AJPA while working as a staff reporter, IT advisor and web producer for the Cleveland Jewish News. Rob Certner, CEO of the Cleveland Jewish News at the time assumed the presidency in 2006 and became one of Smason’s mentors.
Smason attended his first conference with the AJPA in 2008, and since then has only missed the 2016 conference, which was held that year in Washington, D.C. for the third year in a row as part the the General Assembly (GA) of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Three years ago, Smason became the first vice president and continued until last year as both Membership Chair and Webinar Chair. He was nominated last month to take over the expiring term of office from his predecessor, Craig Burke, of Mid-Atlantic Publishing, which publishes the Baltimore Jewish Times, the Washington Jewish Week and manages the Philadelphia Exponent and the Phoenix Jewish News..
“Craig was a magnificent leader,” he praised. “He started out on a very high note and ended his term of office with great strides.”
Smason went on to say that the coronavirus pandemic has been a financial albatross to the AJPA.
“We have suffered as an organization significantly because one of our main sources of income is our conference that we hold every year with many of our members attending,” he said. Originally scheduled for Atlanta in June, it has been rescheduled for June of 2021.
“Of course, much of the revenue that we would have raised from sponsorships did not happen,” he noted.
Due to the work of several key figures, Smason added, the organization was able to recoup a good bit of revenue associated with the Rockower Awards Banquet. Considered the “Jewish Pulitzers,” the Rockower Awards are presented annually to the top newspapers, magazines and freelance writers who are AJPA members. It is named for a dedicated Jewish journalist and publisher, Simon Rockower of blessed memory.
The first-ever virtual presentation of the awards were held on Thursday, July 2 with almost 100 more entries submitted this year than last year.
“I was the host and wore my trademark white suit,” Smason explained. “Even though we were able to present the Rockowers, we are still seeing a significant financial hit because of the pandemic.”
Smason noted that the AJPA has seen a membership increase with several members returning due to the leadership of new Membership Committee chair Carin Smilk.
“We are looking forward to moving ahead to engage our members,” Smason continued. “We will have quite a few webinars focusing on strengthening our skills as editors and freelance journalists.” He said this will be an ongoing project that will be implemented through their recently redesigned website.
Florida International University journalism and communications professor Hugo Ottolenghi, a judge for several years with the Rockowers, is working on the project.
While the Atlanta conference will get the green light next year, according to Smason, he said he is looking forward to working with fellow AJPA member Larry Brook of Southern Jewish Life magazine, for a proposed 2022 conference in New Orleans.
Abe Slabot of the New Orleans Jewish Ledger was AJPA president from 1956-58, Smason concluded. “It’s been more than six decades since a New Orleanian has been president of the American Jewish Press Association. So that’s a big deal.”