(Self) pity of it all: Israel's media today

If even media leaders are busily proving and proclaiming their own victimhood, why would anyone else in media here dare to believe that change is possible?

The Israeli media does an amazing job of explaining its own failings. They have it down to a science: Begin with blaming the government, add some vague notions about the sinister influence of 'capitalists,' and sprinkle in a reference to "Big Brother" (or some other reality show).


The result is a fairy tale narrative according to which the government's heavy hand quashes any unsanctioned media. The capitalists, who keep media outlets "on their knees," kowtow to the government. And meanwhile the morons in the public just want to watch midgets argue with bimbos in any case.


"Media in Israel is in a state of crisis," former leading Channel 10 journalist Ofer Shelah said in an interview recently. "The printed press all over the world has fallen into debt and is on the verge of bankruptcy, because fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers. In Israel, this situation is overlaid by the fact that the Israeli pattern of consumption generates monopolies."


Naturally this can only mean one thing:


"The result is a situation in which all the Israeli media outlets are in existential danger. All these outlets are on their knees to the government or to the tycoons who own them. This poses a danger to all the big words: democracy, pluralism, freedom of expression. But the government doesn't really care, and neither, apparently, do the citizens."


It's interesting that throughout Shelah's good-guy-bad-guy analysis, the word "innovation" never once pops up. He remarks that print is in trouble, as if this is a new, original, or interesting idea. Twenty years ago it was, and that was around the time when global print media brands started rethinking their business models.


Since then there has been incredible success across all categories. In the US, Politico has become a dominant, all-digital news force. New long-form digital outlets like Byliner are making waves. Vanity Fair seems to be at the top of its game. The Daily Mail's site, the Mail Online, is now raking in more than 40 million monthly unique visitors (even though it's based out of a country with 60 million people).


The reinvented entertainment trade press outlet The Hollywood Reporter is making headlines around the world. And the Huffington Post has made politicized, digital-only news and commentary into an astoundingly lucrative business.


It's unlikely, though, that any of these outlets achieved what they've achieved by regurgitating self-pitying tales about big bad government capitalists abusing poor innocent media outlets (who, incidentally, have the most direct line to public opinion).


Rather than spending time and energy dividing the field into oppressors and victims – a favorite pastime of the Israeli media – they took on the one big word that Shelah left off his list of big words: Innovation.


Apathy, indifference, stubbornness

Not too long ago, I was in a meeting with the CEO of one of Israel's three big publishers and a political communications consultant. Before getting down to business, the publishing chief and the PR person jumped into conversation about a hot topic – lobbying the government to create minimum retail prices for book sales.


I was in shock when I heard this. Anyone who's ventured into an Israeli bookshop has felt a similar shock -- sticker shock. Paperback books here average around $35, while new hardcovers can go for $50 or more. And this guy, a lovely and clearly very intelligent man, thought that he could sell more books by instituting price minimums!


The conversation was indicative of the state of Israeli media in general. Apathy, indifference, stubbornness, and shortsightedness do exist in the world of Israeli media, but not on the part of the public, as the editors and journalists would love to believe. They exist in and among the media establishment itself, which enjoyed 60 years of sumptuous power in bed with Israel's ruling elite before the global market tore the sheets off that bed.


It's easy to march out any number of platitudes in response to this – that Israel is a tiny market, that readers aren't ready for print-to-digital changes, etc. But in fact, Israel has to be pound-for-pound the most observed media market in the world. Yet how many English language iPad apps have been released by Israeli newspapers? Who's doing the definitive insider podcast? Which Israeli media brand has created a vibrant Pinterest Feed? Who's bringing out e-readers to prop up slumping book sales?


The answer is no one. If even media leaders like Ofer Shelah are busily proving and proclaiming their own victimhood, why would anyone else in the media here dare to believe that change is possible? Instead, they've waited for change to simply drop from the sky.


With foreign investors descending on Israel's media landscape – like the now-infamous Sheldon Adelson who from 5,000 miles away spotted the opportunity that Israeli media insiders have been tripping over for years – they may have to wait no longer.


Ashley Rindsberg is the author of Tel Aviv Stories



פרסום ראשון: 02.07.12, 15:27
 new comment
This will delete your current comment