"The fear and the pride”

Jewish Journalism in an era of fake news

The AJN spoke to Ron Kampeas about his views on the role of Jewish journalism amid a climate of increased antisemitism, hostility towards Israel and fake news.

Family members of hostages march during the annual Israel Day Parade. Photo: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura
Family members of hostages march during the annual Israel Day Parade. Photo: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

For over 35 years, Ron Kampeas (pictured) has been reporting on the news. Kampeas was born in Montreal and moved from Australia to Israel in 1986 where he began working as a reporter during the first intifada.

Currently he is the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)’s bureau chief in Washington, having been in that position for 21 years. Prior to that he worked for over a decade at the Associated Press in Jerusalem, New York and London. He has won two Rockowers – Jewish media’s premier journalism awards.

Kampeas was recently in Australia for Limmud Oz where he spoke on a panel alongside The AJN’s Carly Adno on the topic “Being a Jewish journalist since October 7”.

Ron Kampeas.

The AJN spoke to Kampeas about his views on the role of Jewish journalism amid a climate of increased antisemitism, hostility towards Israel and fake news.

“You’re always looking for the thing your readers are not going to be seeing in the everyday media … you’re looking for the Jewish angle,” he said.

“Right before October 6, I had covered the trial of the man who had murdered 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

“It crystallised for me that really you’re looking to tell the story of what it’s like to be Jewish in a given place in a given time, whether it’s Israel, whether it’s in Australia, whether it’s in America.

“It was about people doing something which is quintessential … going to shule on Saturday morning, and it also had the quintessential Diaspora Jewish fear of being attacked for being Jewish.

“There are lots of ways to be Jewish in the Diaspora, but that’s almost two essential aspects of it coming together – the fear and the pride.”

As to how Jewish journalism in the Diaspora has been impacted since October 7, Kampeas commented, “We were trying to chronicle the sense of helplessness that Jews felt both on behalf of their Israeli brethren, but also for themselves … One of the biggest things that comes up is just a sense of aloneness.”

Kampeas reflected that many American Jews were concerned by the “unleashing of white nationalism with Donald Trump’s election” and had felt a sense of solidarity with the political left, but that after October 7, when the left did not “show up”, many Jews found themselves feeling alienated from it.

People holding Israeli flags gather for the annual Israel Day Parade on Fifth Avenue on June 2, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura), Times of Israel

“There has been a bit of a splintering,” Kampeas said of the polarisation among American Jewry. “It’s our job to try and figure out how to explain where the differences lie and what they mean. Especially heading into a presidential election year.

“We’re also looking into the degree to which there is disaffection with Biden among the Jewish community,” he said. “I’m also looking into the degree to which there is fear of a second Trump term.”

As to the proliferation of “fake news” on social media, Kampeas’ response is to “just do the best job that I can and try to get the real version out there”.

He acknowledged that it is difficult not to be “swept up in whatever the social media moment is”.

Kampeas said he understood that there is a lot of pressure on media organisations to break stories and match stories, but it should not come at the cost of the truth.

“So, you want to get it as fast as possible. And then you are finding that you’re having to correct course days later, and it’s not good. I can’t change the world … but I can at least do my best to protect my corner of the world which is mainstream Jewish journalism.”

Kampeas’ advice to Jewish journalists is, “Always just step back. Listen to what the community is telling you. But do your best to verify before putting it to paper … Your readership deserves the most thorough accounting of what’s going on that they can get.

“You have to tell them the truth, even if it’s bad news. Even if it implicates them in the bad news, you have to tell them but you have to check first.

A New York City Police Department officer stops an argument between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters after the Israel Day Parade in New York on June 2.

“You have to be sober. You don’t want to scare them unnecessarily and you don’t want to placate them unnecessarily. And that’s just very true for all journalists. I think it’s more so true for Jewish journalists.”

Kampeas noted that the JTA was one of the first news organisation to report on the horrors of the Holocaust, which was seen by other news agencies as exaggerations and often dismissed.

“So that’s the importance of Jewish media … We are not going to be sucked into the narrative of the secular media when it’s wrong, because the stakes are high for them, but they’re even higher for us. We have to get it right.”

Many of Kampeas’ reflections are also relevant to the Australian Jewish experience. Next year The AJN will celebrate 130 years as a newspaper. Especially since October 7, we have seen the importance of The AJN in communicating Australian Jewish perspectives, at a time when they have often been ignored and dismissed by mainstream media.

While it can be difficult for legacy media to cut through the noise of misinformation on social media, it remains vitally important.

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