A Golden Age of Jewish Media

This guest article was written exclusively for HonestReporting by Matthew Kalman, a veteran Jerusalem reporter for Time, Boston Globe, and other major international media. He is the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report. This article is based on a presentation given by Matthew at MediaCentral in May 2012.

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 the Jerusalem 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.

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