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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A brilliant solution to the problem of declining newspaper circulation exists in Israel. It is a lively and wide-ranging survey of the day's articles, columns and features broadcast by Yitzhak Noy.
Admittedly, he goes on the air at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. But thousands of Israelis get up to listen if only because of this unique opportunity to get a comprehensive update about topics at the top of the local and international agenda.
His Saturday morning review of science, technology and medicine in the overseas weeklies is a bit more merciful. It comes on just after 7 a.m. and is on for an hour.
Each story included in his broadcast gets an average of four to five minutes, but there are exceptions such as the contention by Bar-Ilan University's Prof. Ariel Toaff that Jews did engage in ritual murder as alleged by medieval anti-Semites. He devoted more than 20 minutes to a scathing refutation based on the review of the Israeli scholar's book published in the Times Literary Supplement.
Noy's insistence on devoting half of his summaries of the daily press to foreign publications compels him to start work in the wee hours of the morning. After picking up facsimile copies of the day's editions at the agency that publishes them in Tel Aviv around midnight, he drives to the Kol Yisrael studios in Jerusalem and spends nearly four hours rendering the original English, French and German texts into Hebrew.
The Hebrew press is a comparative snap for him. "Usually, I simply read the dailies live-on-the-air without even glancing at them beforehand." His total command of Hebrew enables him to launch an hour-long monologue in which he never fluffs a line.
It invariably is straight to the point and easily listenable. His intense interest in the contents and unusual ability to relate them to the national agenda is contagious. It stimulates a desire to read the material in the original.
However, despite his preoccupation with the printed word, Noy is a farmer at heart. At 64, he still tends his olive grove and considers himself an agriculturalist as well as a journalist.
"Agriculture is a wonderful form of human endeavor," he said during a leisurely stroll through his four olive groves in Moshav Neta'im, "but you just cannot make a decent living from it."
Noy lives in Neta'im, southwest of Rishon Lezion, which was founded in 1932 by a group of agricultural pioneers that included his parents. The Neustadt family (the family's original name) had come here from Breslau, which then was in eastern Germany and now is in western Poland.
"Life here was a struggle during the years in which I grew up," he said. "We were very poor." His late father, whom he described as an individualist and nonconformist, eked out a living by working at a factory on the outskirts of Rishon that manufactured "silica" bricks then used in construction.
After serving in the IDF as a combat medic - one of his periods of reserve duty included the Six Day War - Noy enrolled in the Hebrew University and studied Jewish and European history. He succeeded in finding the "an ideal job" which enabled him to pay tuition and cover his expenses: a newsreader at Kol Yisrael.
"Things were different then," he said, recalling the mid-1960s. "A taxi used to pick me up after class and drive me to the studios on Rehov Heleni Hamalka and drive me home after my shift."
He continued his studies at Brandeis University, where he earned a doctorate under the tutelage of Prof. Ben Halpern, a famous American Zionist publicist and polemicist. Noy's stint in the Boston area introduced him to American journalism, including all-news radio, news magazines and far-flung foreign correspondents. "I am amazed that Israel Radio and TV have only one staff member based in foreign capitals," he said, referring to Yaron Dekel who is stationed in Washington. "It irritates me that the number of Israeli correspondents abroad has dwindled to a mere handful of journalists. My program The International Hour [which he moderates on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m.] is motivated by a desire to fill the gap."
He compensates for the shortage of Israeli correspondents and makes up for the superficial understanding of international affairs that afflicts some of them by interviewing academics who specialize in the countries which happen to be in the day's news.
The plain-speaking but erudite broadcaster does not like to blow his own horn, but he admits that a local editor once told him, "Since you started your program, there has been an increase in our circulation!" Once, when The Jerusalem Post was not delivered with the rest of the day's press, Noy notified its circulation department and within minutes he had a copy.
When he went off the air for nearly a month and was replaced by less competent substitutes, The International Hour's ratings and those of the pre-dawn show dropped by an average of 40 percent.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon was among Noy's most devoted fans. An avid newspaper reader until a series of strokes brought him to the verge of clinical death, he told Yoni Ben-Menahem, the director of Kol Yisrael, that Or Rishon, Noy's dawn press summary, "saves me a lot of time, especially the time I would need to read the international press." Noy's nonstop coverage of the printed news media told him what to anticipate and what might require further elucidation.
There is no denying that the conventional newspaper is faced by powerful competition from the Internet, not to mention the up-to-the-minute radio and TV news, but Noy, for one, contends that the on-line material cannot be compared to the original and that there is no substitute for the printed word. "For example, if you pick up a copy of The Wall Street Journal, you can see how much more there is to read than you can get on-line," he said.
Of course, there may be other ways to stop the erosion of newspaper readership (the current estimate is that Americans under 30 years of age simply do not stop at newsstands any more). One of them would be to teach elementary and high-school students how to read the daily paper - where the news originates, how news agencies function, why there must be local, national and foreign correspondents and above all, what freedom of the press really means. It is not an overstatement to contend that newspapers are daily encyclopedias, often crammed with hitherto-unknown information, and that for the most part, they are a national heritage that must be preserved rather than allowed to fall victim to cold-blooded profit-and-loss calculations.
Since Noy's doctoral thesis was submitted and approved in 1976, he often is introduced at the start of his shows as "Dr. Yitzhak Noy." Indeed, for the ailing print media, he is a cure.
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