Analysis: Tabloid turmoil

Rafi Ginat's resignation as Yediot Aharonot editor, though not entirely unexpected, could be the sign of fundamental changes soon to take place in the Israeli media. Both Ginat's next move and the choice of his successor will have a profound effect on the three organizations which supply most Israelis with their daily news. Ginat was not a hands-on editor; most of the day-to-day running of the paper was left to his subordinates. But publisher and owner Arnon Mozes appointed him to keep the paper on his preferred line and to act as Yediot's public face. Seeing that Ginat - in over two decades of television - had become a household name for populist reporting, this meant that Yediot took a decidedly tabloid turn. Since there are only three mainstream Hebrew dailies in Israel, and Yediot by far outstrips in sales its rivals Haaretz and Ma'ariv, a change of focus or emphasis in its pages causes a ripple effect throughout the media. The greater weight given to entertainment and celebrity gossip at the expense of hard news and social affairs didn't start with Ginat of course, but his short tenure obviously gave the trend a good push. At the same time, Yediot retained its powerful grip on the establishment through it's disproportionate share of the market, wielding the power of avirtual monopoly, while also showcasing some of the finest Hebrew journalism. By sheer coincidence, on the same day Ginat quit, Yediot's veteran columnist Nahum Barnea was awarded the Israel Prize for his writing. This inconsistent mixture can't have been working very well if Mozes let Ginat go so easily. In the downturn affecting the entire news industry, even a behemoth like Yediot has to guard its flanks. The choice of his successor will be an indication of where the entire market is going. Mozes might choose an editor well attuned to world of show-biz celebrity who will produce a slicker version of the infotainment to which Ginat aspired. That probably won't be the direction of the two candidates currently being mentioned for the job, however. Deputy editor Yoel Esteron, who filled the same job for years at highbrow Haaretz. would obviously prefer to take Yediot back up market a bit, inject a bit of gravitas. If the other contender, Yon Feder, editor of Ynet, Yediot's Internet operation, gets the job, it could finally mean the merging of the twin organizations. Unlike any other newspaper in the world, where the content of the on-line and print versions are shared, Yediot and Ynet each have their own writers and editorial staffs and totally unique content, independent of each other. This arrangement has worked for eight years, Yediot remaining the most sold newspaper while Ynet evolved into the most popular news-site, and both are apparently making money. But there are rumors that profits are down and that a merger is in the cards. Feder would be the man to carry it out. His appointment could well herald the beginning of the end for print journalism in Israel. But we've not heard the last word from Ginat. His stated ambition now is to be appointed the new head of the Channel 2 News Company, often dubbed by industry regulars as "Yediot on TV" for its dominance of the ratings. Channel 2 News has been accused repeatedly over the past for dumbing down the news, packaging heavy issues in colorful sound-bites, but in reality, the company still has a team of formidable reporters and commentators, who most evenings manage to set the news agenda. They are fearful now of what Ginat might do should he take over. Ginat is also opposed by the public directors on the News Company's board, while the shareholders are all for him. They believe he is just the man to keep the ratings up while staving off the young challengers from Channel 10 and a newly reborn public broadcaster Channel 1. Funny, that's exactly what Mozes thought when he hired him.