By MATTHEW KALMAN, editor in chief of The Jerusalem Report
When I was invited to become editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report last January, I didn’t realize the challenges would be quite so intense.
The Jerusalem Report was founded in 1990, only the second major English-language news publication from Israel after the Jerusalem Post. Its proud boast to cover “Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World” made it just about unique. At the time, there was almost nothing published in English from the Middle East, and The Report was almost alone in trying to bridge the gap between Israel and Jews around the world.
It was also launched in the days before cable television, let alone the internet. CNN only took off the following spring, with the 1991 Gulf War. The Web was still several years away. YouTube was a pipe dream.
More than 20 years on, the magazine that began as a lively upstart challenger to the crusty Jerusalem Post had itself become something of an old-timer, outpaced by the web-savvy offerings from Israel and around the Jewish world. Is there really a future for classic long-form print reporting on Israel-centered subjects in this mobile, cloud-based era?
We seem to have entered a golden age of Israel and Jewish-interest journalism. Just after I took over at The Report, a former editor of the magazine, David Horovitz, launched The Times of Israel, an exclusively web-based news site that seems to point the way forward for Israel news.
Horovitz’s site poses direct competition to the website of theJerusalem Post, which he edited until last summer. The Post was Israel’s first English website, and one of the first global internet news sites, and remains one of the most popular in the world, with millions of hits each month. Haaretz went online a decade later, after the launch of the English-language print edition, followed by Ynet News, the English version of the online edition of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s near-monopoly Hebrew daily. A similar move by Maariv, Yedioth’s closest competitor, failed miserably – probably because the publishers branded the site as “NRG” instead of Maariv, rendering it meaningless to readers abroad.
Arutz 7, the mouthpiece of the national religious and pro-settler movement, also provides news and analysis online in English, completing the political sweep from Israeli left to right.
In 2011, the free daily giveaway Israel Hayom came up with a slightly different concept with the launch of a daily English-language newsletter emailed to subscribers. In May, The Times of Israel announced its own daily newsletter – adding to a growing arsenal of social media that includes a Facebook page linked to readers’ comments and a blog-hosting service modelled on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free.”
But my challenge in positioning The Jerusalem Report is not limited to Israeli publications. Readers around the world can now access high quality reporting from and about Israel via the websites of diaspora publications. The Forward and The Jewish Week are just two of the excellent news sites operating from the US. From Britain, the Jewish Chronicle has also developed a strong web presence.
In addition to these traditional newspapers, there are several new Jewish websites like Tablet,Jewish Ideas Daily and Algemeiner that only exist online – following the model of Slate and Salon – offering excellent coverage, quality writing and expert commentary.
Then there is the whole new world of blogs unattached to any broader publication.
On the left, the Israeli site +972 offers penetrating and sometimes censorship-busting commentary that takes readers far beyond the kind of material available from mainstream Israeli and Jewish sites. It often breaks stories that are then picked up by the established press and provide important examples of “citizen journalism” in action that must be rattling the establishment.
Another totally new phenomenon is Peter Beinhart’s “Open Zion” Blog on the Daily Beast – an online forum in a mainstream digital publication devoted entirely to discussion of issues around Israel.
Amid this flood of exciting new, instantly accessible material, it has been interesting to work out where an old-fashioned print publication like The Jerusalem Report fits in. Gone are the days when we could claim to be the only English-language publication from Israel, let alone the Middle East. And why would someone wait to receive the print edition of The Report when the same stories are instantly accessible online from a dozen different sources?
We are launching a raft of social media access points from Twitter to Facebook, as well as a blog and a new website.
But we don’t intend to compete with the breaking news sites. Instead, we will set our own journalistic agenda rather than following the news. While other sites rush to post stories online and beat the competition, we take a step back and deploy experienced and talented writers to research issues and carefully collect exclusive information.
Readers of The Report in the past few months have enjoyed a series of exclusive interviews with major figures – from Amos Oz to Moshe Feiglin to Salam Fayyad to Lord Jacob Rothschild – that simply are not available anywhere else. Our coverage of Israeli business and high tech is unparalleled in both its depth and range. Allowing writers a week or two to work on a single story has allowed us to set the pace in reporting such diverse issues as the revival of the Kibbutz, the plight of the Falash Mura in Ethiopia, the launch of a new Palestinian women’s police unit, and the harassment of women reporters covering the Arab Spring. These are just some of the stories that have been covered in depth in recent months only in our pages.
Our strength is in our style: long-form, well-written, well-informed journalism accompanied by excellent photography and graphics that provides readers with an informative and entertaining experience that allows them to relax – far away from the insistent demands of the computer screen.