Bret Stephens is the editor of the Jerusalem Post. Hanoch Marmari is editor of Haaretz in Israel. Jerusalem Report and Israel Insider publications.

Our Newspapers Fail Us

Editorial - Israel News Agency Bret Stephens is the editor of the Jerusalem Post

Please note that the below editorial was written before the owners of the Jerusalem Post resigned for embezzlement!

"Over at the Jerusalem Post, Israel's venerable English language daily newspaper, rumblings of publisher/staff dissatisfaction are being heard loud and clear. Long-time managing editor, Avi Hoffman was fired last week after he recommended pulling an ad that included language he felt would expose Israel to charges of war crimes. New Post editor Bret Stephens apparently agreed. Publisher Tom Rose was furious and ordered Hoffman fired. The full page ad appeared last Friday. According to Aviv Lavie writing in the rival Haaretz English edition, senior staff at the Post turned to Stephens who told them he would back Hoffman in the dispute. Stephens, 28, was in the US during the fracas, and can't be looking forward to returning to a confrontation with his publisher."

Judy Lash Balint, The Jerusalem Diaries, June 26, 2002

Jerusalem----September 16......There is no public relations or public affairs without a carrier. The most established carrier is called a newspaper. And in Israel the only newspapers which enjoy abundant readership and wealth are the Hebrew dailies – Yediot, Maariv and Haaertz.

As for the English newspapers here in Israel – one is a mere translation of the Hebrew edition and the other is fifty percent wire service copy. Yes – there are some brilliant writers on these papers but their voices become deluded when you have a lack of proper leadership integrated with territorial disputes and corporate infighting.

The senior editors who are responsible for the news Web sites coming out of Israel are among the most professional, experienced and creative in the business but they are forced to work with almost nonexistent budgets. And at least one of these English news Web sites gets no cooperation from the print team. There is no copy desk. If mistakes appear on-line, print is ready to tear these front line communicators apart rather than providing support and constructive criticism. When the ball drops heavily on the toes of the Internet update editors, the senior Internet editors are restricted by budget as to what they can do to improve aging hardware, software and creating healthy levels of communication between Net and print news staff. The editors go into survival mode to keep their own jobs and the young editors are too afraid to speak out for support out of fear of becoming redundant. But do we, the public, understand where the unintentionally made, sometimes misleading encrypted headline and lag comes from? No. When the Israeli English news Websites due to lack of budget carry less and are hours behind the Palestinian web sites whose financial resources are greater - we lose the information war.

Is the Israeli message getting through the noise? Bret Stephens is the editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Let's call one paper the Tel Aviv Times. This paper is traumatized from a publisher and an editor-in-chief who are at each other throats. No – I am not saying that they disagree on issues – they plainly loathe one another, there is no communication and they have divided the paper into two fragmented camps.

True or not, many say that the publisher is a very difficult person to work with and that since the papers' establishment decades go, morale and resources have never been lower. As for the editor-in-chief – he is young, very young. I would not mind that so much if he was an Israeli citizen. If he had served in the IDF. And if he was able to read and speak Hebrew! How can you represent Israel when you don't understand the Hebrew speaking evening news or what is being said in aisle 4 of the supermarket?

Amazing – no. This is Israel. The guy writes excellent editorials, but has no sense of hard, breaking news. Now, what happens when you lack as much as he does? You become insecure. How does insecurity manifest itself – you become arrogant. You literally, with pride, call yourself a "dictator" to those you work with. This man is a well-paid tourist steering Israel's right wing tabloid off the road.

The other newspaper, let's call it the Jerusalem Standard. Bret Stephens has been at the Jerusalem Post.

It's views are openly liberal in a time when Israel is literally bleeding.

The red blood on the sidewalk is still warm from a suicide terror bombing attack on a restaurant.

The vital arteries continue to hemorrhage as one in five Israelis do not have enough food to feed themselves, when 25 percent of the population is unemployed.

Yet the paper calls terrorists – those who blow up buses and restaurants, "militants."

Ok, I understand the "militant" word. As a professional journalist you want, you need to be balanced – you need to maintain contact with both sides of a conflict. But the other side here is calling for the total destruction of the state of Israel. They are not interested in compromise. It's not in their vocabulary. I say – leave the word "militants" and the soft understandings for those who butcher our children and babies on buses and restaurants to the New York Times, Herald Tribune, AP and Reuters. Let them be neutral – they don't live here! They do not call this home.

If we have a message to get out, and I say "if" from the PM's office, Foreign Ministry or the IDF spokesperson's office – don't count on the English Israeli press to deliver. They do from time to time. But one cannot live, cannot survive from time to time.

Solution – the Jerusalem Standard, which has excellent leadership and a highly professional and enlightened staff must turn right. The paper must use the talent it nourishes and embraces to protect the country. As a liberal paper being printed in a war zone, it only serves to demoralize. The paper has only one responsibility today - to lead.

It must. Not just through lengthy, verbose editorials, but through the very editorial content we call hard news on page one.

As for the Tel Aviv Times – the staff is paralyzed. They don't for a second entertain the idea of telling the editor-in-chief that he may be wrong on this or that issue. This elitist editor-in-chief will respond: "don't second guess me." I respond – that's how Israel survives, that's how we shine – we second guess each other in the army and in business. This is our pursuit to collective excellence and utter survival. The staff is afraid of getting fired. For in today's market – there is no market. So you say: "yes understood, I understand," as you swallow your opinion and accept mediocrity.

Solution: the staff of the Tel Aviv Times, which is an amazingly professional and talented one whose only real Achilles' heel is the daily infighting over "beats" - an issue which management does not manage, must collectively make immediate changes themselves.

They urgently need to speak with the owners of the paper with one voice and deliver a reality check for both the survival of the paper and the country for which it is printed. The owners will listen - for if they can improve the quality of the paper it can only translate into greater revenue.

Both print and Net editorial staff need professional, mature leadership, they deserve better wages – they must listen to the government and assist the PM's office, the FM and the IDF to get the job done.

Will this be accomplished. No. We are all too busy counting each and every cherished shekel. Staring at each person who boards a bus or walks past the security guard lined stores as we pray that a terror bomber is not within striking distance.

So as a few of our Israeli newspaper editor-in-chiefs play cerebral masturbation as they collect 40 thousand shekels a month and enjoy obscure, academic verse from those who eat breakfast at Harvard and Cambridge – we suffer and await better days. Problem is, we are losing the wars – the security, economic and information wars.
If we don't start getting our messages out effectively with the greatest potency for which we are physically and emotionally able to for the domestic, foreign public and the Islamic extremist enemy which sits on our doorstep, we will be inviting our worst nightmare to be realized since the second world war.

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An Unsealed Room