A new online Hebrew news portal, seeking to take on the established press, proposes a new and controversial take on objective journalism.
The Web site, thepulse.co.il, publishes news reports written by anonymous reporters. While all other news outlets traditionally place the author’s byline underneath the headline, here, all readers get is “written by the pulse news desk.”
The new Web site was formally launched on Tuesday, after three months of
beta stage operations, but to date, no one knows who is behind the new
venture. The only identifiable person connected to the outlet, is the
company’s public relations representative, Update Communications’ owner
Tom Vagner. In an interview to The Jerusalem Post, Vagner explained the
“The decision to avoid publishing the names of the reporters and editors
of thepulse.co.il is a principled one. We believe that it will make it a
more trusted news source,” said Vagner. “The Israeli media sector is
characterized by blurred lines between news and opinions. Reporters
function as commentators and analysts present the news. It has come to
the stage where news consumers often don’t make a distinction between
the content of the news and the person who reports it.
“In this type of situation, facts are colored by the persona that
reports them. We want the facts to speak for themselves. We believe that
by removing the identity of the reporter, we will get rid of the bias,”
Vagner gave the example of Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy, well known in
Israel for his leftwing views. “Many readers prejudge his work, before
they even read the article, or else they don’t even read it, assuming
that they know what he’ll say on any given issue. With us, that won’t
happen,” he said.
“Or take Yair Lapid, someone whose political views are famous. Can
readers or viewers really trust that his news reports are objective or
lacking an agenda? Our news reports are short and factual. They serve
the public’s need for information and don’t introduce commentary or
opinion,” said Vagner.
According to Vagner, thepulse.co.il’s news staff is made up of 30
editors and reporters. “The staff is a mix of experienced journalists
and newcomers to the trade. They are all people with excellent writing
skills and with good knowledge of the topics they write about. Not all
of them hail from established newsrooms, but we believe that there is no
reason why someone who has blogged for years about electronic gadgets
for example, can’t make a fine technology reporter,” said Vagner.
When asked how the news site would maintain its accountability without
names for which to direct comments, complaints, corrections or
questions, Vagner said that like all news outlets, it provided an
address for all content related issues, only in this case, the answers
would be given in the name of the newsdesk as a whole and not to a
particular reporter or editor. “The credibility of the organization
replaces the credibility of the individual employee,” said Vagner.
Another aspect of the operation that remains secretive is its ownership.
Like its editorial staff, the owners of thepulse.co.il are anonymous
All Vagner would say, was that the company was backed by investors with
“Strong economic resources.”
Tel Aviv Journalist Association chairman Avi Paz said he found it
difficult to understand how the anonymity of the Web site’s staff and
owners could turn it into a more trustworthy source of information.
“Professional journalists are supposed to act in full transparency and
carry full responsibility for the information they publish to the public
they serve,” he said.
“These are bedrock principles of our profession and are intrinsic
elements in the system of checks and balances that allow the flow of
information. It seems to me that the cloak of anonymity that this
initiative’s personnel have taken on serves no purpose but to avoid
taking responsibility for the information they publish.”
Dr. Yuval Karniel, a lecturer on journalism ethics at the IDC Herzliya
School of Communications, said the new approach was thought provoking,
but that the burden of trust and accountability was on the publishers.
“In the media world we are familiar with the concept of anonymity in the
context of journalistic sources. The working assumption is that
anonymity enables the release of information that would not otherwise
get out and that its publication benefits the public,” said Karniel.
“This is not necessarily the same for the anonymity of reporters. Here
there is a risk that anonymity will be a cover for lack of
professionalism and reliability.”
Karniel said that traditionally, bylines were published to lend
accountability to news reports. “By naming the author, readers know that
the piece was written by a professional journalist and backed by a
dependable newsdesk. Not publishing a byline, raises the question ‘what
are they hiding?’ “On the other hand,” continued Karniel.
“Maintaining anonymity opens the door to more hard-hitting and
courageous journalism. We know that in Israel, journalists are often
insufficiently protected from external influences of business or
political interests. Perhaps anonymity and joint protection will enable
writers to report more freely on controversial topics.”
One news outlet that has a tradition of anonymous reporting is weekly
international financial magazine The Economist. For decades the magazine
has been providing readers with high quality news and analyses written
by anonymous reporters.
Karniel said that the comparison to The Economist is valid, but only up
to a certain point. “While its true that the articles don’t have
bylines, the members of the editorial staff are well known and reputable
journalists, so even if the readers don’t know who wrote a particular
article, they know who is on the magazine’s staff.
“Pursuing objectivity is an admirable goal, but I am unconvinced that
anonymity will necessarily achieve it. Professionalism and trust is not
something that can be purchased instantly. Only time will tell if this
new Web site will be able to deliver it. For now, the burden of proof is