Behind the Lines: Scoop-sharing

Hebrew newspapers commented with astonishment on US dailies' nightly coordination of front pages.

According to a report last week in the American trade journal, Editor and Publisher, the two main US dailies, the New York Times and Washington Post, coordinate their next day's front pages every night. This was picked up by all the Hebrew newspapers and commented on with astonishment. Personally, I was surprised that this arrangement has been in place only for the last decade and not for much longer. Exclusive stories in the two papers that in many ways set the American and even world agenda are more than mere scoops. And having the main competitor be aware in advance serves to improve the coverage in both papers. Such a gentleman's agreement between Israel's two top papers, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, would be inconceivable, given the "blood rivalry" between them. In Israel, there are a few hundred people who sleep badly, six nights a week. At five in the morning, they rush out to find a copy of the competitor's paper, hot off the presses, to scan headlines and bylines, searching for anything they might have missed. If a reporter finds a story on his beat that he or she didn't have in his own paper, excuses have to be prepared in anticipation of the angry phone call from the news editor. The news editor is under even greater pressure. He is responsible for all the beats. Come evening, the anxiety level begins to rise. Any rumor of an unknown story in the hands of the competition prompts him to send out teams of reporters to track down the story and bring it back, dead or alive. On the surface, this might sound like healthy professional competitiveness. But it has descended into the realm of threats, bribery and even wiretapping all for an item that, a week after being published, is usually old news. Sometimes the competition borders on the pathetic. Last week, Yediot had an exclusive interview with Amalya Dayan. The granddaughter of the general, daughter of the actor and now a gallery owner in Manhattan is a member of the closest thing Israel has to a royal family. Maariv got wind of the interview in advance, so it followed suit by publishing a profile of its own, which didn't include any quotes from the subject herself. In other words, it was more important to include something the competition has, just for the sake of not falling behind. I think the American arrangement is better. A couple of grass-roots organizations are trying to organize a mass boycott of the Israel Radio host, Gabi Gazit, claiming that during last month's disengagement, his broadcasts were blatantly hostile towards the evacuated settlers and that with such partisan views, he shouldn't be allowed to host a show on Israel's national radio. The boycott is a bad idea for at least three main reasons. First, from the point of view of the Right, Gazit is only one of a large number of left-leaning senior broadcasters on Israel Radio and Army Radio. The fact that he does the least to conceal his personal views actually makes him less of an influence on listeners than others who prefer to insert their own agenda in a more elegant and manipulative fashion. For the same reason, I thought that Haim Yavin's coming out of the closet with his documentary series on the settlers was actually a good thing; now we would be much more skeptical when watching Channel 1's everlasting chief anchor. The second problem with this kind of boycott is that it's totally ineffective. Israel Radio is part of the non-commercial Israel Broadcasting Authority, and as such, pays less attention to ratings and popularity. So, even if a few thousand listeners boycott Gazit's show, it will have no effect. Similarly, complaining to the IBA ombudsman is usually useless. Probably the only way to bring effective pressure on the IBA is through it's public board, some of whose members are budding politicians who might enjoy taking up a crusade against Gazit. The third problem is that a boycott of this kind seems vindictive and anti-democratic. Gazit was indeed insensitive to people losing their homes and he apparently refused to go down to Gush Katif like his colleagues and broadcast from the special studio set up in Neveh Dekalim. Obviously he isn't allowing the opposite point of view to be heard sufficiently. Does this mean his detractors should behave the same way?