A bet on Christian readers for The Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Post, an English-language newspaper born in Israel in 1932 as The Palestine Post, is about to get new owners who are betting they can rebuild its circulation by reaching an international readership of Jews and fundamentalist Christians.

CanWest Global Communications in Winnipeg, Manitoba, joined with the Israeli media company Mirkaei Tikshoret last week in the $13.2 million purchase of the newspaper and its sister weekly magazine, The Jerusalem Report. The Post was one of the high-profile papers that made up Conrad Black’s media empire, which has been sold in pieces by Hollinger International’s new management in the wake of financial scandals.

Under Hollinger’s management since 1989, The Post itself endured unrest as the newspaper’s editorial voice shifted from left to center-right, prompting an exodus of journalists. In September, a new editor in chief replaced Bret Stephens, who was 28 when he started more than two years ago as the youngest top editor in the newspaper’s history. Stephens returned to his former employer, The Wall Street Journal, where he is on the editorial board.

The new editor, David Horovitz, 42, a veteran of The Jerusalem Post who was chief editor of The Jerusalem Report, said that the newspaper’s staff was cautiously optimistic about the ownership shift and he was “pleased that several months of instability are coming to an end.” He added, “I’m hopeful that The Post will now have stable and savvy ownership.”

He said he did not think that the editorial voice of The Post would change “because the first indication is that they bought the paper because they think it’s excellent and they can do some great things.”

Within the Israeli press, there has been speculation that the new owners would demolish The Post’s office building in the Romema neighborhood of Jerusalem and sell the pricey real estate in an area of high demand among the city’s Orthodox population.

Geoffrey Elliot, vice president for CanWest’s global affairs, cautioned that “no decisions will be taken right away” with regard to the building, but noted that “it has a value that is a significant part of the purchase price.”

“There is considerable potential,” he added, “to build circulation, ad revenues and influence of The Jerusalem Post because of the sales, marketing, circulation, promotional and other capacities CanWest already has in North America.”

Elliot said CanWest believed that it could attract new readers among the Christian right, who live mainly in the United States and have a strong interest in the Middle East. “Those demographic numbers in middle America are very significant and we believe they represent a potential, largely untapped market,” he said.

The Post is CanWest’s first newspaper outside Canada, and the company’s executives have ambitions to increase The Jerusalem Post’s print circulation in particular in Montreal, Toronto and New York and to expand its reach through its Web site. The paper’s rapidly growing online version, which is the most frequently visited Israeli web site with 14 million page views a month, accounts for almost 20 percent of The Post’s advertising revenues.

In 2003, the Post’s circulation in Israel was 11,486 for its daily editions and 24,832 for its Friday weekend version, according to Elliot. Its international edition, which circulates largely in the United States, was 25,978 and the weekly French language edition was 3,083.

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