Hebrew Hear-Say: Pressing issues

The watchdogs of democracy, as the media are meant to be, have known better times.

"Eich ata yashen balayla, itonay katan sheli?" - "How do you sleep at night, my little journalist?" asked singer Arik Einstein at a time when he was being hounded by the press. The watchdogs of democracy, as the media are meant to be, have known better times. The yellow press (itona'ut tzehuba) is increasingly becoming a gray area. Things written in black and white (katuv shahor al gabei lavan) are less important than what should be read between the lines (bein hashurot). A recent study found that the credibility of Israeli journalists (itona'im) is so low that it almost rivals politicians (at the bottom of the scale). The proximity of the press and the politicians might not be coincidental. Over the years many members of the press have crossed the lines and become members of Knesset - outgoing Meretz leader Yossi Beilin and his predecessor Yossi Sarid, former Shinui leader Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, would-be Likud leader Silvan Shalom and Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who was highly political when she was a radio presenter and hugely media-conscious as a parliamentarian, are among the most obvious examples. And that's before you even take the spokesmen into account. Tommy Lapid made the transition back to journalist following the end of his political career by becoming a justifiably opinionated op-ed writer (publitzist, in Hebrew). His son, Yair Lapid, is faring less well with much criticism among the branja (the elitist guild which refuses to press-gang members). Many perceive an ethical problem in his working both as a journalist and as the face staring out from the ads for Bank Hapoalim. Interestingly, male journalists tend to make the leap from the media to marketing in that order, whereas female fashion models frequently end up as highly presentable TV presenters. Either way, the mix has become so prevalent that Hebrew speakers had to come up with a word for it. Actually, in that typically Hebrew way, it's two words together: dugmagish - a composite of dugman (model) and magish (presenter). Older women journalists pressed out of service are more likely to end up in public relations (yahasei tzibur, abbreviated to yahtzanut). Equally telling is the use of the word "talent" in Hebrew. This doesn't so much express a person's skills and ability as their marketability as a name. A talent is used exclusively to refer to someone with a big name in the media or entertainment. The fusion of the two worlds is one of the most pressing issues in Israeli journalism. Another is the intervention of economic and commercial interests which are often much harder to detect. Gone are the (bad) old days of Israeli socialism when politics dictated the news. Today, newspapers are big business and you can read into them what you want. Many publishers also have interests in the electronic media, hence it's not surprising that reality shows (tochniyot realiti) - which have very little to do with real life but everything to do with ratings ("rating" with a rolled "r") - enjoy so many spin-offs in the printed press it can leave you reeling. The tabloids today are as concerned with television pilots (paylotim) as they are with the once-famous air force. One literal expression of the low ratings of the journalists is the pejorative term tishkoret - a hybrid of tikshoret (media) and shkarim (lies). There are also many complaints about what is called in Hebrew a barvaz itona'i (literally a press duck, used as a media equivalent of a wild goose chase.) Famously, journalists, like politicians, don't need to possess any professional qualifications to enter the field. No wonder they say that the difference between doctors and journalists is that the former bury their mistakes and the latter publish theirs. In the past, most started out as beat reporters (katavei shetah) and worked their way up. Now with e-mail, Internet and digital cameras, they don't have to work quite so hard as did those who had to use scissors and Scotch tape to cut and paste and remember the origins of the phrase "to spike a story." "Hard copy," in both senses of the term, is basically a thing of the past. Arguably, so is the "scoop" (the same word in Hebrew) which is often a leak rather than a story discovered, picked up and worked on - now more sensationalist than sensational. As reporters' reputations have sunk over the years, so has their pay. No wonder so many people around the world have skipped the paper chase altogether and opted for blogs where they can write what they want, how they want, without killer deadlines. Will hackers replace hacks? Current affairs programs (tochniyot aktualia) are increasingly discussing the future of the local media. Here at the Post, celebrating its 75th anniversary this month, staffers young and not-so young, ponder the dilemmas. And the National Federation of Israeli Journalists recently held a conference which addressed fears of a drop in standards and concerns that are really stopping today's journalists - little and large - from sleeping. So it's not the end of the story. The fact that the press cares is definitely good news. [email protected]