DevMode
There is a tale about the legendary Gustav Schocken, who was publisher and editor in chief of Haaretz for almost half a century. When a certain longtime Ha'aretz subscriber complained about the paper's line on certain issues, Mr.
Schocken is said to have answered him: "You have obviously been wasting your time and your money reading Ha'aretz. I strongly advise you to reconsider your subscription." This anecdote may of course be apocryphal. I, at any rate, who came to be Mr. Schocken's successor, have never found any direct evidence to support it.
But it accurately reflects the character of the man.
It was the character of a publisher with an overwhelming sense of commitment. A unique kind of businessman who could not compromise with his customers, Gustav-Gershom Schocken was an intellectual steeped in European culture and in Zionist ideals who became one of the founding fathers of modem Israeli journalism, and indeed of modem Israel. He played an important role in shaping the new country's political norms and cultural values.
Fact or myth, generations of Ha' aretz writers and editors have grown up on this anecdote. Ha' aretz is a paper that takes strong stands on many issues. The duty it feels to endorse, to object, to campaign, even on O(:casion to crusade, is a vital part of its being.

A Subscriber's Protest

More than 80 percent of Ha' aretz's 70,000 paying readers are subscribers. Some 40 percent of them have been reading the paper for more than seven years.
Many of them feel like shareholders rather than mere customers; almost like members of the board, whose perfect right it is to give us a hard time, to complain, to criticize, and sometimes to punish. Canceling one's subscription is the traditional reaction of the newspaper reader angered or offended by his paper. Sometimes these cancelations are intended as an expression of protest, and turn out to be temporary. But many others are serious.
Whether Mr. Schocken did or did not make that comment to that irate reader, he did once respond publicly and in a similar vein to a letter to the editor canceling a subscription for policy reasons. The exchange took place in June 1988, during the early days of the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada.
"I am not a masochist," the reader's letter began. "1 have had a subscription to Ha' aretz for many years, and as a man of liberal views, I enjoy the contents and the balanced information that the newspaper provides its readers. But I was surprised to see on your front page the picture of a baby from Gaza who lost an eye after being injured by a rubber bullet. The page editor apparently believes that his readers will find the sight of a pitiable baby particularly interesting. I would like to stress the fact that I have the most moderate views and that I am a believer in negotiations as a means of solving the conflict in peaceful ways. But I am not a masochist and, therefore, this picture has prompted me to react. Consequently, I wish to end my subscription to your newspaper (00') I also intend to instruct the advertising firm that works for my company to refrain from advertising in your newspaper, so as to help prevent an editor of this sort, as well as the photographer, from making a living." The editor in chief, then almost 80 years old, insisted on answering personally. Here are two extracts:
"We believe that we fulfilled our duty by publishing the photograph of the nine-month-old baby from Gaza who was shot with a rubber bullet by our troops (00') This is the most important issue at stake now. In the upcoming elections, the Israeli voter will be called upon to decide whether it is right to continue a policy that produces such results." "Let me remind you that in the middle of the 1948 War of Independence, a young Israeli writer published two stories denouncing the abuse by Jewish soldiers of Arab civilians and their property. Perhaps then, too, someone accused that writer of being a masochist. Today, these two stories are considered classics of modem Hebrew literature and their author has been awarded the Israel Prize." But Mr. Schocken's reasoned arguments failed to convince the reader. He did not renew his subscription and his cosmetics company never resumed advertising in Ha'aretz.

Upholding Principles

Mr. Schocken's reaction sounds almost anachronistic. Today, publishing a daily newspaper for ideological reasons seems an impossible luxury. And, indeed, it is not easy to survive with a broadsheet that requires at least 30 minutes to read, even cursorily, in a country with 14 domestic TV channels and 33 foreign and international channels; in a country where two households in 10 use a PC and modem; in a country where people generally drive to work, since there is no subway system - and thus no time to read the paper on the train. Add to that two strong and aggressively competitive tabloids and you find that life is not a picnic.
Nevertheless, Ha' aretz and its steadily growing body of readers strive to uphold the values and principles embodied by Gustav Schocken and imbued in his newspaper. His son, Amos, the present publisher, is as zealous as his father in maintaining these standards.
It is for this reason that we keep trying to extend the limits of the public's right to know. Often, the material that we fight to publish is not entirely welcomed by our readers. That is the case in our constant struggle with the military censorship. The gray routine of these daily battles is not particularly glorious. Granted, some of our victories were celebrated in the foreign press - for instance, the publication of the names and faces of the heads of the Mossad and the Secret Service. But who wants to know everything about training accidents, or administrative arrests, or arms sales abroad or even ancient anecdotes from the army's veiled past?
Many Israelis feel national security considerations should take precedence over journalistic values. Even if most of our readers have tolerated our adventures into these military zones, they never really applauded us for it.
By the same token, many Ha' aretz readers who are involved in the stock exchange do not especially admire our persistent support for a capital gains tax on stock market profits.

The Intifada - A New Phase

But the longest and perhaps most dangerous confrontation between Ha' aretz and its readers took place in the late 1980s, during the Intifada years.
Journalistic coverage of the Palestinian uprising was not an easy task for the Israeli press. At first, the press, like the entire establishment, underestimated the events and tended to see them as just sporadic riots. We were among the first to discern - and to say - that Israel had entered a new phase in its relations with the Palestinian people.
Ha'aretz, as in previous periods in the country's history, was evolving positions that were contrary to the drift of public opinion in general, and contrary to the views of many of its own readers. There were three major stages in our process of understanding and accepting the new reality.
The first stage can perhaps be defined as linguistic, but it was substantive nevertheless. We were the first to decide to use the Palestinian term "Intifada" - uprising - in all Ha' aretz reports. It took us almost half a year to make that decision, but even then it was controversial. Reporters and columnists, as well as analysts and politicians, were referring to the events in all kinds of ways: "unrest," "disturbances," "breaches of the peace," "demonstration," "clashes," "riots," even "rebellion" - each writer and his own semantics. The first who adopted the term "Intifada" was aHa' aretz columnist in March 1988, four months after it broke out.
The second stage was to publish information from Palestinian sources, especially referring to numbers of casualties, alongside the official Israel Defense Forces (IOF) version. Often there were wide discrepancies between the two versions. The army could not supply accurate and reliable information on what had happened on the Palestinian side. Intifada casualties were taken to Palestinian hospitals and the families sometimes took possession of the bodies before they were officially identified and counted. There were also different definitions of the term "wounded" applied by each side. According to the IDF's standards, people treated in local infirmaries for inhaling tear gas or suffering simple fractures were not counted at all.
Each side did its best to manipulate the numbers. Our editors and reporters developed skills for getting the whole picture. They used the perspectives of both sides and analyzed them together with information from third parties, such as foreign media or human-rights organizations. Yet, we were strongly criticized by readers for our readiness to use Palestinian sources in our reporting.
The third phase came much later. Since the Intifada lasted in different forms for more than three years, and faded gradually into sporadic acts of violence, there was an ongoing debate as to whether it had ended or not. The Israeli reader was getting fed up with reports from the West Bank and Gaza, and the press itself became tired and bored with reporting on these events.
Nevertheless, we at Ha' aretz took a strategic decision to continue with daily reports of clashes, just as before.
Try to imagine these annoying reports appearing each day, with their lists of Palestinian casualties and their detailed accounts of how each violent incident took place. They kept on appearing in Ha'aretz, when most of the Israeli press had effectively stopped their day-to-day coverage of the Intifada, and reported only on special events, and even then usually on their inside pages.
Some of the politicians accused us of not permitting the uprising to die down by our relentless coverage of it. Some of our readers complained that not only were we biased, we were getting monotonous as well.

Readership Survey

During the most intense Intifada years, from 1988-1990, we experienced an ominously growing number of "content quitters." Content quitters are readers who cancel their subscriptions because of the content of the papernot for reasons of distribution, or price, or for various personal reasons.
As a rule, some 18-24 percent of our quitters cite content. (This figure does not include those who cite "price," but mean, in fact, value for money which refers to content as well.) The most common complaints among quitters are that the paper takes too much time to read, or that the content is too heavy, or that there is not enough material for the family, or that the stories are not juicy enough, which means not enough celebrity stuff. A hard core of content quitters object to the substance: that the paper is too leftist (on security matters), or too conservative (on economic matters), or antireligious, or pro-Arab - which implies a lack of patriotism.
As the long-serving address for letters of complaints, I still wonder what it is that drives a long-term subscriber to quit. I am well aware of the fact that a certain number of our readers don't really like us, but as there is now no other mainstream Hebrew broadsheet, they reluctantly cling to us and hang on.
Then one morning, perhaps after 20 years, a veteran subscriber suddenly lashes out and throws back his subscription in our faces. The explosion can be caused by a single phrase in an article, or a photograph, or even a headline. His letter will invariably begin with two customary statements: "I have been a subscriber for 20 - or 25 or 30 - years," and "This morning I was shocked to find...." I always wonder where this reader was for all those years, since we haven't changed much. I think about all the energy he must have expended in order to tolerate us.
How many such readers do we lose for "ideological" reasons? We started to run a survey on this specific question only in 1994. The data we gather comes from analyzing those who have actually quit, so we do not know how many are still "in the closet." The "poetical quitters" account for only four percent of the total number of quitters in "normal" times. But somehow these hundreds of individuals a year are the white smoke rising from a dormant volcano; you can never tell when it will erupt. I think it did erupt in 1988.
We must achieve an annual growth of around five percent to keep our share in the market. During the years of 1988 to 1990, we were functioning against the backdrop of a steadily falling readership. We lost some one-eighth of our subscribers. As no other reason was evident, we attributed this fall-off to our policy towards the Intifada.
The Intifada broke out in December 1987 and its active phase lasted until the Gulf War at the beginning of 1991. There is a perfect correlation between those dates and the trend we experienced, and it accorded precisely with the direct reactions we were getting from our readers. .
This made it very hard for us to maintain our editorial policy. For nearly three years, almost every morning, we would ask ourselves if we were not risking the very existence of the newspaper by our stubbornness. But it was against our nature to shift our ground. We could never let the paper lose its soul by trying to please everyone.
The only action we took was to improve and update and develop our product. In recent years we have greatly expanded our family pages, our arts and leisure sections and our sports coverage. We have launched a weekly book review supplement that has become the best in the country and our weekly Internet magazine is the leader in its field. If we cannot make all our readers love us, we can try to make them stay with us because, by quitting, they will lose a lot.

Without Official Clearance

Our most recent confrontation has been not only with our readers, but with most of our colleagues as well, and it is more bitter than any dispute we have ever had. For the past four years we deliberately ignored an understanding between the military and the Israeli media, whereby stories that involve IDF fatalities were not to be published before the IDF spokesperson had given clearance to publish.
This was not military censorship, as some observers wrongly assumed, but an authentic expression of the army's solidarity with the families of soldiers in the field. The army has always seen it its sacred duty to personally notify stricken families of their bereavement. Once all the notifications had been delivered, the army would release an official account of the incident, adding that all the families concerned had been notified. All the other families whose sons were serving in the same area could then breathe again.
This humane practice would regularly cause delays in the reporting of major events in which soldiers were killed. The silence of the Israeli media became impossible to sustain in the face of on-the-spot, real-time coverage by international news media - on the air and on the Web. Israeli media consumers began to turn to these foreign providers rather than to their own domestic media to find out what was happening. Newspapers were the most seriously compromised. Many major stories were not cleared by deadline, and we were prevented from publishing them for another entire day - or two days if the event in question took place before the weekend. Often, the clearance to print arrived soon after deadline, which meant that we came out in the morning without the major story, but it was being broadcast by then on domestic radio and television.
At Ha' aretz, we decided to report such stories without waiting for the official clearance. We never published the names of the dead soldiers before official notification, nor provided any information that might identify them.
Nevertheless, we were bitterly criticized for creating an atmosphere of unbearable tension for the families of soldiers who knew that their loved ones were serving in that particular area. Do not forget that almost everybody, including ourselves, has someone dear in the service.
Our competitors continued to cover these stories with bold headlines shouting vague and sometimes false information like: "Heavy artillery fire across the Lebanon border," while the truth was that three IDF soldiers had been killed in an ambush which then led to an Israeli artillery barrage in that sector. Our competitors accused us of trying to profit from our exclusivity while we actually wanted them to join us in publishing the stories.
Ha' aretz' s policy on this matter became a matter of public controversy. The association of bereaved families protested against us. The defense establishment attacked us. Politicians criticized us. We were warned that the upshot might be special legislation forbidding Israeli media from publishing such stories before IDF clearance. Some of our readers described our position as prejudicing their right not to know.

Publish and Be Damned

If anything in the editor's job was literally a nighhnare, this was it. It is hard to describe the difficulty of confronting the system, and the whole society, in late night decisions to go ahead and publish. Yet this policy of ours eventually forced the army to improve its system of notifying the families.
Whereas previously it took an average of 12 hours, we have recently reached a new understanding under which the media will involuntarily embargo a story for no more than eight hours. Given that all major dailies go to bed around midnight and hit the streets at six a.m., this means that we can report freely on events with casualties until only two hours before deadlirie.
These two hours of self-restraint still leave a certain gap between us at Ha' aretz and the international news services. But we are an Israeli paper, operating within the norms of Israeli society.
Ten years ago, there were three country-wide Hebrew broadsheets in Israel. Two of them, owned by political movements, have since closed down because of lack of readers and bad management. They were ideological newspapers, committed to ideas but not paying enough attention to the requirements of the changing markets. We have no intention of going that way.
In fact, we have enlarged our share of the market, even during the current period of stagnation and even some regression in newspaper sales in Israel.
In 1996, we were read by 6 percent of the population; in 1997, by 7.1 percent.
Our circulation has grown by some 45 percent in the last eight years. We remain influential and sometimes we can take the credit for changing norms and attitudes.
Now we must carry on with our lion tamer's task, deploying commihnent and integrity as assets, giving our readers the quality product they deserve, but, when necessary, standing up to them.
In our Israel jubilee issue, we ran a piece entitled "Fifty Reasons to Live in Israel (Despite Everything)." One of our readers reacted by sending us a note saying: "There is one more reason, one you did not mention - and that is Ha' aretz."

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