A free press is quintessential for democracy. One problem is, though, that both print (newspapers, books) as not-print (radio, TV) media are in the hands of people with official diplomas, connections in high places and money. Democracy so gives equal voting power but unequal freedom of speech.
Newspapers always had a Letters section but also there, often, words by people of stature were printed most, with an occasional token commoner’s reflection just added as afterthought or curios.
Then came the Internet. For a few bucks, you could have a computer, writing software and an Internet connection and post whatever and whenever you wanted. But the problem now became, how does one’s writing attract readers. And again, wealthy people found ways to push their writings, in effect obscuring the voice of the common person.
But now we have something that puts equality a step further. An Internet newspaper, the Times of Israel, has a blogger section that is open to anyone who knows how to write basic English and has a passion to spread his/her thoughts. One applies and gets to work with software with lucid instructions that make posting one’s contributions easy. It encourages but does not obligate the use of illustrations and incorporation of clips. It also stores drafts and archives past postings conveniently.
The TOI does not sit in some dark corner of the Internet as it covers the news from and about Israel and beyond fairly, lucidly and often in context and depth. And now, it shares its limelight with hundreds of bloggers of all stripes. By enabling the voice of the people, it both enriches its overall message and enables everyone a say.
Surely, to help readers tell the forest from the trees, among its hundreds of signed-up bloggers and thousands of their blog posts, the TOI groups posts it recommends as outstanding (“featured post”) and sends their hatching around to people who signed up to feeds.
However, non-featured blog posts have their day too. First of all, readers can subscribe to feeds of all future posts by their favorite bloggers. There is also a list of popular posts – those that are sent around most on Facebook. That’s a popular vote that should stand for something.
Last but not least, the TOI has a chronological list of all blog posts (“latest”), with total equality between the pieces. Like in the voting booth, every say counts equally. Besides, the three groups, featured, popular and latest, are on equal footing. Any blogger’s piece has a fair chance to be seen.
Another way to have one’s blog post found is that at the bottom of each post, some of the main topics (“Related Topics”) are listed. By clicking on each of them, one gets other posts that have been written with these tags. Some will be peculiar, others will be erudite and some will contain little news, and together they make up a rich passionate bank of insights. For example, click the tab under a post on a weekly Torah portion and you get a list of dozens of comments on the same portion by a gamut of writers.
And the TOI does more than just opening up its channels to the public. It does “stealth editing,” making sure that the post looks its best graphically and also does not go against democracy, by (inadvertently) promoting racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. If it thinks it’s a bigoted post or section, it’s still open to the blogger’s amendments and argumentation, I found often at the beginning of my blogging with them. They don’t try to unify different opinions – only to stop things that no one needs to read. I remember my first draft having a spelled-out link in the text while in review they embedded it as a hyperlink and I quickly learned how to do that myself.
I could write my posts in their software but I rather use Word, edit and reedit (and again), use its synonyms lists and speller, then grammar check it on the web and only then paste it into the TOI bloggers’ port for adding illustrations and tags. As a recovering perfectionist, I make sure that I spend a lot of time making my writings as clear and readable as I can but I’ve given up on perfection. With any query, I ask their always busy but cordial editors.
I see it as not coincidental that this all happens at the home of a publication that carries Israel in its name. Not that all writers or bloggers are necessarily Jews, Monotheists or religious. This site with its focus on the Jewish State reminds me of the largest and most intricate Book every published by any group of people, the Talmud, that is also dominated not by opinion and information but by questions and discussions whereby rejected minority positions are still recorded.
However, don’t for a minute assume that all Israeli news outlets would encourage such diversity. One accepted me as blogger but then stopped my postings with no recourse for me. One invited bloggers but the address for that is a dead link. One even removed a friendly disagreement by me under an article of theirs. One removes my best reactions so that I won’t win any argument against its pieces. Sadly, a free press will rarely be as democratic as the Times of Israel.
It is so good to have a chance to speak, even if I have no idea who hears me. I’ve met people who exclaimed ecstatically: It’s YOU, the TOI blogger? So I know I’m being read. And it’s great to sometimes see that Bibi or the media heed my advice. Like today, CNN following my posting.
I feel privileged to have this chance to have my say at a worldwide marketplace of ideas that so many visit to acquire news, thought, knowledge and inspiration and that can be checked by generations to come. Of which I can always proudly say that I did it my way.
Yet, this free opportunity is not just a TOI altruism. With this egalitarian bent, the Times of Israel enriches and underlines the superiority of its own reporting.
Thank you, Times of Israel and fellow bloggers.