Monday, February 27, 2012
It’s About Time for the Times of Israel
Along comes The Times of Israel. It’s about time that the day’s Israeli news is presented to readers in a manner that’s not only pleasing to the eye, but also in the way it was meant to be reported. Calling itself “the one-stop site for Israel, the region, and the Jewish world,” The Times of Israel launched last week and is quickly building up a loyal audience.
First, let’s consider the competition. The Jerusalem Post is the original and leading daily English language newspaper in Israel, and was the first to establish itself on the web. Something apparently went wrong along the way, as a visit to the Post’s website is an unpleasant experience. There is an overbearing emphasis on advertising, with annoying pop-ups, a horrific colored frame. Getting past the advertisements is a challenge, but once done, the reader will find that many of the articles he wants to read are listed as ‘premium’ and can only be viewed at a cost. Other articles from the printed edition never make it online at all. The Jerusalem Post is considered to have a right of center orientation in Israeli politics.
Considered to be Israel’s intellectual newspaper, Haaretz has been published in English as well as its original Hebrew for several years. For some reason, professional English isn’t a requirement on the Haaretz website. Spelling mistakes and bad grammar make it obvious that this is a translated news site. The pop-ups are annoying, and jump out at you as you make your way from one article to the next. Haaretz is a leftwing newspaper, with editorials and opinion pieces constantly criticizing the government and Israeli policy in the West Bank.
Proper English is the standard at Israel Hayom, which posts an online translated version of its freely distributed newspaper, which boasts of having the highest circulation of all of Israel’s dailies. The newspaper has a distinctively pro-Netanyahu orientation and is owned by his supporter, American hotel and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The Hebrew digital version employs software that gives an online experience as close to turning the pages of a real newspaper as you can get online. Unfortunately, the English website is just translated articles from the print edititon, and it is not a website updated with the latest news.
Yediot Aharonot has its own English language news site, Ynetnews. This is an abbreviated version of the Ynet news site, one of the most visited portals in Israel. There is a lot of content, but most of it is half hidden and not easily accessible.
And to satisfy Israel’s right-wing and pro-settler population, there is Israel National News, which made its way to the web after years of broadcasting illegally as the Arutz Sheva radio station. The readers of this website see the reporting of Haaretz, on the other side of the political spectrum, as being anti-Israel. For example, an opinion piece published today by P. David Hornik gave details on the “The Anti-Israel Campaign in Haaretz.”
All of this leaves plenty of room in the center for an impartial, unaligned website to emerge, and The Times of Israel fit right into this empty space. The new website comes across with a magazine-like feeling, ultra modern and with pleasing graphics and navigation. Founding editor, David Horovitz, who previously served as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, stated in his opening editorial that The Times of Israel “represents a determined effort, by a team of skilled, committed journalists, to report Israel, the region and the Jewish world accurately and engagingly.”
If I have any complaints about The Times of Israel, it’s the order in which its articles appear. Although Horovitz states that “the site’s design and construction also enable us to show when news matters more and matters less,” seemingly unimportant news articles can appear at the top of the front page, “above the fold”, pushing down articles that carry more weight. For example, today I visited the site to find that the top story was a short piece on “Etgar Keret's mustache”, while an article reporting on Israel selling weapons to Azerbaijan was further down the page.
The Times of Israel made two very wise decisions that make visiting the site a pleasant experience. As Horovitz stated, the site has “steered clear of pop-up and other overly intrusive advertising, so that reading the site is a pleasure.” In addition, commenting on articles is permitted through Facebook user accounts. This has so far prevented the mud-slinging and name-calling which frequent talkback comments on the other websites.
In commentary about The Times of Israel’s launch, columnist Shmuel Rosner stated that “the proliferation of English news sources in Israel is a bittersweet trend. It doesn’t reflect a belief that there are enough readers to support so many publications; it reflects a disbelief in the ability of even this many publications to adequately inform the few readers who care about news from Israel.”
I have enjoyed visiting The Times of Israel on a daily basis. This new Israeli news site is highly recommended.