In Israel these days, it’s ‘read all about it’ — in Englishby ben sales, jta
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tel aviv | Twenty years ago, the Jerusalem Post was Israel’s English-language publication. Today there are seven English news websites: the Post, Haaretz English, Ynet News, Israel National News, Israel Hayom English, the Times of Israel and +972.
While Hebrew newspapers and TV channels are struggling, the Israeli English-language news market appears to be booming. But with journalism under threat worldwide due to declining revenues, it, too, faces an uncertain future.
“We see an explosion of new media because online platforms are cheap and easy to use,” said Noam Sheizaf, CEO of +972.
The past few months have seen an implosion of the Hebrew press. Ma’ariv, a tabloid founded in 1948 and for its first 20 years Israel’s largest circulation daily, recently was placed in the hands of a court-appointed trustee and could shut down within weeks. Haaretz, Israel’s leading broadsheet, did not print on Oct. 4 due to a staff protest of 100 proposed layoffs. Israel’s Channel 10 TV is in deep debt to the government and faces possible closure.
Many in Israel blame Israel Hayom, a staunchly conservative, freely distributed paper funded by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for aggravating the crisis.
The tough environment “is exacerbated by the fact that in Israel we have the most generously funded free newspaper in the world,” said Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, who before starting the site in February was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. “That’s made life hard for all the publications in Israel.”
The boom in English-language media in Israel is due in part to the limited audience for Hebrew-language news: Israel has fewer than 8 million citizens, many of whom prefer the Arabic or Russian press to the Hebrew dailies. Editors of English publications here say Israeli media are looking for audiences overseas to sustain their operations, and there appears to be a limitless appetite around the world for news and opinion on Israel.
“There’s an audience for news coming out of the Jewish world,” said David Brinn, managing editor of the Jerusalem Post. And because most news content is free online, people interested in Israel news will visit any number of sites — so new publications do not necessarily threaten older ones, Brinn said.
Much of the growth of Israel’s English media has been online. Haaretz, Ynet News, Israel National News and Israel Hayom all translate their Hebrew reportage while weaving in some original English reports.
Haaretz, the only one of the Hebrew papers to have an English print edition, in May put up a paywall on its popular English website, charging digital subscribers $100 annually for unlimited access. It’s still uncertain whether the strategy will pay off, though the experiment soon will expand to the Haaretz Hebrew site.
“It’s unrealistic to rely solely on a print model to fund our journalistic operation,” said Charlotte Halle, editor of Haaretz’s English edition.
The Jerusalem Post has pursued additional revenue opportunities by printing a range of publications beyond its daily newspaper. The Post has international, Christian and French editions. Most of the paper’s readers are online — the Post says it garners some 2 million hits per week.
The Times of Israel, which combines original reporting with articles that repackage information reported elsewhere, would not disclose readership statistics. But Horovitz says the site has garnered 40,000 “likes” on Facebook since its launch eight months ago.
With such a crowded market in such challenging times for the news industry, Israel’s English-language journalists are not without trepidation about the future. “There will be some sort of re-evaluation” of the Post print news-paper’s viability in a few years, Brinn said.
Beyond competing for the same readership, the publications must vie with an ever-expanding cyberuniverse that occasionally breaks stories before they do.
“Social media has served to democratize the media market in Israel,” said Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of new media and a prolific tweeter of Israel news.
Sheizaf of +972 is concerned that publications thriving now are resistant to change, which could hurt them in the future.
“People are not experimenting,” he said. “The readers are evolving and changing, but the journalists, the stories they write, look like the stories written in the 19th century. We need to be a lot more creative.”
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