Israel Today’s decision to gradually move from printed magazines to a fully digital news portal is crucial for any news agency that wants to remain relevant. Relevancy in the digital world means much more than just hot news flashes in real time. More importantly, and somewhat counterintuitively, relevancy in the digital world means that we are able to get a more reliable picture of what is happening in the real, everyday world, than from traditional mainstream media.
In Israel, this strange phenomenon, where the tangible, concrete hold-in-your-hand traditional newspaper becomes less real, and the intangible, in-the-cloud media more real, is reflected in how Israeli society is seen through the mainstream media vs social media.
In a nutshell, the first reflects how progressives see Israel, the latter how the average Israeli (that for the most part holds a Zionist worldview) sees Israel. Put in other words, Israel’s mainstream media presents an elitist worldview representative of a small minority, while social media reflects the real world of the masses, collectively known by the crude phrase “the man on the street.”
This mismatch between the two forms of media has yet to translate into real power. The mainstream media is still far more powerful than the myriads of “dissident” unorganized individuals. But this anomaly in influence is beginning to change as “the man on the street” becomes wiser in using to his advantage the tools of social media that enable him to reach more people faster than the mainstream could ever dream of.
Why these two forms of media have become rivals has to do with the Israeli mainstream media being an agent for the kind of social change that most Israeli citizens resent, namely advancing secular values that contradict the notion of Jewish particularism – a Jewish people living in a Jewish state.
In his new booklet “Department of Communication: How the TV, Radio and Newspaper Editorials Were Conquered,” Hagai Segal, editor of the newspaper Makor Rishon, describes the way in which the Israeli media has turned from being patriotic to anti-patriotic. The big change, according to Segal, came following the traumatic 1973 Yom Kippur War that radically undermined the trust Israelis had, until then, in their government. But instead of improving the situation, the media used the crisis to turn against what Israel had stood for until 1973, namely a state proudly founded on the values of Zionism.
By 1976, Segal shows that “following mutual accusations between left and right-wing people on the [national Israeli] radio, there is now a hostile environment in the newsroom.” For example, the opinionated right-wing reporter Aryeh Naor “was exiled to another department of the radio.” This process of purging right-wingers from the media, described in great detail in Segal’s booklet, has exposed the mainstream media for what it is today, a progressive stronghold that is able to steer Israel in its desired course.
Excluded from the political and cultural discourse for decades, right-wingers were effectively muzzled, until the appearance of Facebook, the social media giant that came on the stage in 2006, though Israelis only began to grasp its potential to bring political change perhaps as late as 2014. By no coincidence, the anonymous commenters on the large digital news portals (most of which are simply replicas of the mainstream media) began turning to Facebook to voice their frustration with a mainstream media that did whatever it could to portray the right-wing constituency as primitive, uneducated and bigoted in the run-up to Israel’s 2015 election. Social media, and Facebook in particular, has become the “town square” of the Right, allowing it for the first time in decades to be heard without the mainstream media serving as a gatekeeper.
Since then, alternative right-wing digital media outlets have become increasingly common. After decades of having just one opinion force-fed to them, Israelis are now beginning to experience a free-opinion media market, just as it was always intended to be.
This does not mean that the predominantly right-wing social media should replace the left-wing mainstream media grip. No one should control the media. Instead, social media, including digital news portals, should be looked at for what they are – agents that, if used appropriately, can help revitalize a true democracy that draws on the majority’s beliefs and values.
In this regard, Israel Today’s move from print to digital is really only a change of form. As far as content goes, and at least as far as this writer is concerned, Israel Today will continue to reflect the realities of Israel and the Jewish people to the best of our ability, rather than spun agendas disguised as news.