A behind-the-scenes glimpse of Jpost.com

Departing JPost.com managing editor Nati Gabbay pulls back the curtain and reveals how the Internet desk reacted to the most explosive stories of the year

By
January 3, 2016 13:43
The Jerusalem Post staff

Outgoing manager of JPost.com, Nati Gabbay (right), goes over the latest headlines with his staff in our Tel Aviv office. (photo credit: DANIEL CLINTON)

 
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What makes a story go viral? Well, if we knew the exact formula we’d probably all be millionaires, but sometimes it’s kind of obvious. It wasn’t a great surprise that the overwhelmingly most-read story of 2014 was the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

But 2015 proved to be a bit more difficult to track. The election and the drama that ensued made for great Internet fodder.

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However, the rest was up for grabs.

Click here for more stories from the "2015 - The Year That Was" Jpost special

A viral story needs to resonate somehow and compel viewers to share it, either because they feel it vindicates their world view or they abhor everything the story stands for.

In 2015 there were two subjects that managed to do just that: The diplomatic rift between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the strengthening of Islamic State.

Below is a run-down of what struck a chord with JPost.com readers in 2015 and how those at the helm of the site reacted.

The fall and rise of King Bibi


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“Weird, but could it be that Bibi won’t be our prime minister anymore? It’s like having Turkey without [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, Russia without [President Vladimir] Putin or the US without a [president Bill] Clinton or [George] Bush in the background.”

Such was the talk around the JPost.com desk in the weeks before Israel’s elections last March.

The polls were pretty consistent: Israel has grown tired of Benjamin Netanyahu and wants a change. The key question was not who would get more votes, Netanyahu’s Likud, or Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, but whether Herzog would be able to build a coalition.

It was one minute to 10 p.m. on Election Day, and everyone at the desk was glued to the TV monitors. The voting had officially ended and the three TV networks were about to show the results of the final exit polls.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1... and it’s a... tie??? What? We were all amazed and rushed to update the site with the breaking news. After a long day, most of the editors started leaving, but the real news came as the official numbers of the vote came in. There was no tie. The Likud had opened a significant advantage, and against all of the polls and speculations, King Bibi floated into another term as the prime minister of the State of Israel.

Millions of our beloved readers reveled in the drama and clicked on the dramatic story of Bibi opening the gap.

This was our most-read story of the year!

Malicious joy at Islamic State’s expense

With its deadly terrorist attacks, graphic videos of beheadings and of burning captives alive, it was hard to turn away from Islamic State-dominated headlines in 2015.

These videos forced us to make some editorially hard calls. In a way, by promoting these kinds of stories, we would be “helping” these animals to promote their propaganda. However, should we bury our heads in the sand? Shouldn’t the world see what is happening, see that this threat is becoming more prominent as time passes? As Jews who know very well the tragedy of the Holocaust, how can we close our eyes to what is happening just dozens or hundreds of kilometers from our borders? Eventually, we created some kind of protocol. We decided to report about the Islamic State atrocities in a sensitive manner: Publish some videos, but without revealing images of the actual killings.

This is something that was very hard on us all. As news editors, we did actually see the very graphic and shocking pictures before we edited them carefully.

Many of our desk workers are young new immigrants who are not used to viewing such images.

However, the time we came across a story about Islamic State members tempting to flee the battlefield dressed up as women, where they were dressed up in makeup and bras, we just knew this story would go viral.

Within hours, this story was “caught” by many international websites, and soon became one of the most viral stories of the year, getting even more clicks than the awful stories of Islamic State’s executions.

We are journalists, but we are also human beings, and seeing these cowardly animals, caught and shamed, well it really put a smile on our faces.


Netanyahu vs. Obama vs. Netanyahu

This wasn’t the “best” year in the personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. As editors monitoring the news, it sometimes felt as if we, the press, were being used as tools in a not-so-cold war between the leaders. But we discovered what telenovelas and soap operas screenwriters know all along: Conflict, dirt and tension is good for business.

Time after time, leak after leak, bash after bash, JPost.com readers loved to be part of this diplomatic circus, and we – as editors and journalists – loved to report it.

The stories you clicked on the most on this subject all centered around the drama building up before Netanyahu’s speech in the US Congress at the beginning of March.

Here is a short list of some of the stories that became viral within hours:

• The leak: A leak to Bloomberg in January revealed that Israel’s Intelligence establishment was closer to the White House’s views than to Netanyahu’s. According to that report, the Mossad agreed that it would be a mistake to add new sanctions on Iran. The Mossad, Congress, Netanyahu and Obama? That was obviously viral material that brought it to our top 20 stories of the year.

• The revenge: A few hours later, Bibi struck back, with his sources saying that this leak was sweet revenge by Obama. Revenge may be served cold, but our readers just loved to be part of the story with more than 1,000 talkbacks – some bashing Obama, some bashing Netanyahu – and we at the desk were thrilled to see this wild discussion evolve in front of our eyes.

• The Fruit Loops: Three days later, Hollywood actor Rob Lowe didn’t really love the fact that Obama made time to meet some YouTube “viral” stars, but didn’t have any plans to meet Netanyahu in his coming March visit, or in his own words: “Obama prefers ‘Fruit Loops’ over Netanyahu.” Bibi, Obama and fruit loops? It was a trifecta meant to go viral.

• Play your Purim noisemaker: By the end of March, Netanyahu prevails as prime minister. Purim has just passed, and then a sentence from American-Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Riskin exploded: “The president of the United States is lashing out at Israel just like Haman lashed out at the Jews.”

You can agree with every word, or you can slam and bash the speaker, but two things (so it seems) you just have to do: click and share.

On a personal note, I’m leaving my position as JPost.com managing editor after two amazing years, so I hope I gave you all a glimpse of the amazing and exciting (and also very hard) work, that a bunch of 20- to 30-year-old Anglos are doing around the clock. Young adults who recently arrived in Israel not so long ago are finding themselves editing and writing stories of both joy and misery.

This is Israel. This is JPost.com.

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