Jo Ellen Green Kaiser is J.'s new CEO, effective Oct. 17, 2022.
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser is J.'s new CEO, effective Oct. 17, 2022.

J. hires Jo Ellen Green Kaiser as first-ever CEO to oversee expansion

Eyeing audience growth and an expansion of its digital offerings, J. The Jewish News of Northern California has hired the organization’s first-ever chief executive officer, J.’s board of directors announced this week.

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, a nonprofit association director, former news media consultant and once editor-in-chief of the progressive Jewish digital journal Zeek, will be J.’s first CEO, tasked with overseeing the business operations, personnel and financial health of the Jewish media organization. J. has been publishing continuously since 1895.

“This is an incredible opportunity to join one of the strongest Jewish publications in the U.S. and even the world,” Kaiser said.

The announcement comes during a period of transition for J., which traces its roots to San Francisco’s turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrant community. In July, editor Sue Fishkoff retired after a decade at the helm, during the same year J. broke its own record for most first- and second-place awards for excellence in Jewish journalism at the annual American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards. (The publication has also changed names several times, publishing as the Jewish Bulletin for a half-century before it became J. in 2003.)

“This is a pivotal moment in J.’s 127-year legacy,” publisher Steve Gellman said. “With Jo Ellen’s strategic abilities and her deep knowledge of local media and our community, J. is ready to enter an exciting new period of impact and relevance.”

Kaiser, a longtime member at San Francisco’s Sha’ar Zahav synagogue, will aim to steer J. during a period of transformation in the journalism industry at large, amid challenges to the survival of community newspapers and a rethinking of the Jewish journalism model.

Over the past three years, some of the most prominent Jewish publications in the country, including the Forward and the widely read New York Jewish Week, ceased print publication in favor of a digital-only product. Boston’s Jewish Advocate also scrapped its print edition after 118 years, and the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles temporarily suspended its print magazine. Two Jewish newspapers in Chicago both folded.

“Jewish media is experiencing the same absolute crisis that other local news has, and it’s been exacerbated during the pandemic,” said Philissa Cramer, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, speaking to the New York Times.

We could not have found a better fit for our new CEO than Jo Ellen, who brings an extensive background in both publishing and nonprofit organizations.

J., which incorporated as a nonprofit in 2013, saw a sharp downturn in print advertising during the worst of the Covid pandemic, but nevertheless managed to weather the storm, maintaining a biweekly print issue and daily website with help from committed advertisers and a broad donor base. In the last two fiscal years, J. hit records both for donations and donors, according to its fundraising department. The number of donor households grew to 2,280, an 18% increase, and first-time donors reached the 1,070 mark with gifts from $18 to $180,000.

Kaiser called it “an exciting time to be involved in this new media era, with so many ways to creatively reach and connect with your audience.”

J.’s board said it aims to “build on [J.’s] award-winning editorial reputation” with Kaiser’s hire, with “new digital product offerings, deeper news gathering impacting the Jewish community, [and] increased outreach to younger and more diverse audiences.”

The announcement came after a monthslong national search. Kaiser, who lives in San Francisco, holds a Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley and an undergraduate degree from Yale. She settled in the Bay Area in 1997, returning to the region after having studied at Berkeley in the ’80s.

“We could not have found a better fit for our new CEO than Jo Ellen, who brings an extensive background in both publishing and nonprofit organizations,” said Carol Weitz, J.’s board president. “She shares our passion and commitment to take J. to the next level.”

In early meetings with staff, Kaiser has pledged to pursue untapped fundraising opportunities as well as grants available for nonprofit journalism.

She said she not only aims to deepen J.’s impact in the Jewish community, but also continue to establish it as a player across the wider journalism landscape, covering topics of concern among California’s Jews and other communities, particularly marginalized groups and racial minorities.

“Although we are squarely part of the Jewish publishing sector, we are bringing mainstream journalism and publishing expertise to the forefront with outstanding content and quality,” she said. “We want to be measured and recognized for success in the greater world of journalism, as well as among the top Jewish media organizations.”

Kaiser’s start date is Oct. 17.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.