The New Yorker does a fine job, usually, of deciding which feature articles to give out free on its website. Their logic seems obvious enough: if the story is of broad political or social importance, make it free. Keep all the other stuff–about the arts, food, sports, or other "soft" stories–behind the pay wall.
But they screw up sometimes. It’s too bad, because David Remnick’s story on the looming demise of Israel’s liberal Ha’aretz newspapers is a fascinating, probing and deeply important story. So, to you New Yorker web editors, I say, make it free!
Meantime, here’s a quick summary of the article: Remnick talked to virtually all the paper’s main players–its publisher, Amos Schocken, descendant of the storied Schocken publishing family; its crusading leftists writers, like Gideon Levy; and most of the more reasonable editors you might call "respectably liberal."
Remnick basically comes to the conclusion that the rightward shift in Israeli society means that, unless a dramatic change happens soon, Ha’aretz might very well come to an end.
Of course, the paper has done nothing to court more readers, Remnick writes. Schocken, in his late-60s, has basically taken a high-minded, even willfully blind position towards the paper’s dwindling readership. Rather than put more sympathetic stories about Jewish Israelis on the front page, Ha’aretz still leads with scathing stories highlighting Israel’s failings–the settlement policy, and its treatment of Arabs and Palestinians generally. That’s every honest newspapers job, the article implies, but not if it refuses to acknowledge the humanity of its own readership base too.
The story may not be as important, at least temporaly, as the feature story The New Yorker is offering for free this week–a report from Cairo–but its themes are perhaps deeper. After all, Remnick is not only talking about a small country with an outsize influence in the world, he’s talking about a problem that every country with a free press faces. Sometimes, the greatest threat to journalism is not strident dictators willing to shut them down, but an indifferent readership.
We should wish the death of Fox News no more than we do of MSNBC. But if The Jerusalem Post prevails and not Ha’aretz? Then we’re in touble.