Two major advertisers in the Baltimore Jewish Times told a bankruptcy court Wednesday that they might not continue to buy space in the weekly newspaper if its ownership changes.
Judge James Schneider weighed their testimony in bankruptcy proceedings against Baltimore-based Alter Communications, which publishes the nearly 100-year-old Jewish Times as well as other magazines.
Alter Communications CEO Andrew Alter Buerger, who is editor and publisher of the Jewish Times, has said he would not participate in the joint ownership plan proposed by its former printer.
White Marsh printer H.G. Roebuck & Son says Alter owes it $1.5 million. It has proposed a plan in which it would get 55 percent of the company and Alter 45 percent, although Alter would have options to purchase 5 percent more to split ownership evenly.
But Buerger testified that a 50-50 split would "paralyze the company" and that key executives and other staff would leave. "I think we would lose too many good people to remain in business."
Attorneys for Roebuck asked witnesses how much it matters whether the leaders of the company are Jewish themselves, and whether other Jewish publications have been successful under non-Jewish ownership. The Roebuck family is not Jewish.
William Yerman, the CEO of the Strata Group, a real estate company, and broker of record for Yerman, Witman, Gaines & Conklin Realty, said he has held leadership roles in local Jewish charities and reads the Jewish Times every week.
"There's no rival, clearly, in our market, and I believe it's very important," Yerman said.
The broker said that Andrew Buerger and his family were important members of the Jewish community in Baltimore. Because of his relationship with Buerger, he has been advertising with the Jewish Times regularly and remains happy with its advertising services, he said.
Yerman said that aside from advertising in the Jewish Times, his company has focused efforts almost exclusively on social media, including blogs.
"If the Buerger family was not in control, it may convince me to finally stop," he said. "it would feel like a different publication."
He was not aware of any Jewish publications in other cities that were not owned by Jewish people. "They would have a better understanding of the needs of Jews than someone who isn't Jewish," Yerman said.
Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of Sinai Hospital and senior vice president of Lifebridge Health, called the publication "the glue, the fabric" that connects Jewish residents in the area.
"The Jewish Times, under the Buerger leadership, has been embraced wholeheartedly," Meltzer said. "It strikes to represent a broad array of Jewish viewpoints."
Meltzer described the Buergers as "one of the cornerstones" of Baltimore's Jewish community.
"It's tough to separate the Buergers from the Jewish Times. They're kind of one and the same," he said.
The leader of the paper must be "somebody who is integrated well and understands the gestalt of the Jewish community, if you will," Meltzer said.
But he feared that there might be a "backlash" if the Buergers were to separate from the Jewish Times. He said such a reaction might prompt Lifebridge to stop advertising in it.
"I will react based on metrics," he said. "If the newspaper weren't read, it wouldn't make sense for us to be advertising."
Success could be defined not only financially but also on other metrics, Meltzer said.
"We'd be looking at the success of the newspaper, the degree to which it continues."
Testimony was expected to continue Thursday, and Schneider was expected to issue a decision at a later date.