Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Is The Job of a Jewish Blogger Writing About Israel?

Of the topics that came up during the Jewish New Media Summit in Israel 2 weeks ago, one thing that was not discussed was what exactly we were doing there.

That of course was taken for granted, though not all of us necessarily had the same goals in mind.

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There were approximately 150 bloggers and journalists from about 30 different countries attending. The bloggers outnumbered the journalists.

In his critical article of the event, Gary Rosenblatt -- of the Jewish Week -- asked the question, What Was The Goal Of The Jewish Media Summit In Israel: Advocacy Or Access. He also delved into the answer, with the distinction that:
there is a difference between journalists, whose mandate is to strive for facts and fairness, and bloggers, whose goal is opinionated engagement.
That is the standard answer, and generally still valid.
But there are qualifications.


Unlike in the world in general, when it comes to Israel the distinction between journalism and blogging is not necessarily iron-clad.

There is arguably no country in the world whose very existence, policies -- actually, almost every move -- are attacked as vociferously in both the old and new media as is Israel. Under the circumstances, it would be understandable for the Israeli government to see such a summit as an opportunity to strengthen its defense in the media. But as one of the attendees pointed out at the end of the summit, he bristles at the idea of being an "ambassador" for Israel -- and no wonder. An ambassador by definition defends the country he represents and is expected to never criticize it, at least not publicly. What blogger wants to be hemmed in like that?

So no, being a blogger does not mean leaving pointed and critical questions at the door and the tension resulting from such an expectation was palpable. Jenni Frazer pointed out in When journalists asked Benjamin Netanyahu whether he considered a role in Ukrainian cinema that
it is hard to expect diaspora Jewish journalists to take Israel seriously, and vice-versa, if it insists on treating them as an extension of its public relations arm, a practice long derided by communities around the world.
Yet when discussing Israel, we seem to enter a Bizarro world where journalists are the ones who are opinionated (if not outright jaundiced), while it is the bloggers defending Israel who often respond with facts, and pointing out what often appears to be a lack of fairness and balance on the part of the journalists.

Glenn Greenwald was prescient, if not a cause, of the current state of journalism, sometimes referred to as "fake news". Back in 2013, Greenwald decried how
this suffocating constraint on how reporters are permitted to express themselves produces a self-neutering form of journalism that becomes as ineffectual as it is boring...all journalism is a form of activism. Every journalistic choice necessarily embraces highly subjective assumptions — cultural, political or nationalistic — and serves the interests of one faction or another.
This may have signaled the first manifestations of "blogger-envy" by journalists, abandoning objectivity for subjectivity, though you need to keep in mind that Greenwald's own roots are in blogging -- and old habits die hard.

This touches on comments that Matti Friedman made to the group, as described by Judean Rose in her post, Framing the Narrative: Matti Friedman on the Israel Story on what encourages this bias and how it exhibits itself in the media. Friedman explained that the goal in countering this bias is educating the journalists, which sounded encouraging when he said it. But rather than addressing how to do this, he later conceded that this was nearly impossible and that the bloggers in the audience should content themselves with working towards making Israel a better place.

For myself, I did not see a tension between being informed and being persuaded. The former made be better equipped to do the latter by being better armed with facts and background material.

The fact that other bloggers had different goals and a different threshold of subjectivity was simply a function of the wide spectrum of blogs they represented.

At the very least, being at the new media summit was a source of food for thought.
And resulted in this post.






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