What “most read/most e-mailed” boxes reveal

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Those “most read/most emailed” boxes that have become fixtures on most newspaper Web sites can be pretty scary for reporters and editors.

More often than not,  the stories we consider the most important don’t make the cut, while journalistic fluff – the latest adventures of J.Lo, or silly little stories about fads and fashion – fill out the top rungs of the ratings, along with stories about practical economics.

As a Web editor, I pay a lot of attention to these things, and one thing I’ve noticed in recent months: stories about the Arab-Israeli conflict almost never make the top-ten lists, even when there’s big news.

Even in the New York Times – sometimes thought by admirers and detractors alike as the nation’s premier Jewish newspaper – important Middle East stories tend to earn low ratings.

Today’s lineup included stories about film and the Hadassah official claiming an affair with Bernie Madoff, a few economics stories and two articles about wine.

Part of that is just the state of modern journalism and a newspaper audience that prefers celebrity news briefs, racy pictures, stories about scandals and self-help information to serious news and analysis.  Some of it reflects what many analysts have argued is a national retreat from foreign policy as an issue people care about and want to read about.

And some of it, no doubt, is specific to Middle East stories – a weariness with a conflict that never moves any closer to resolution, despite seemingly endless efforts, an exhaustion with the overwrought rhetoric of partisans on both sides.

Pro-Israel groups are constantly trotting out new polls showing Americans support Israel much more than they support the Palestinians, and I have no reason to doubt their accuracy. (here’s the latest, from Rasmussen)

But look at the most read/most emailed boxes in your local newspaper when those polls appear; they almost never make the cut.

I’m not sure what this means, but that  diminished interest can’t be good for a Jewish state that depends heavily on its alliance with America – which, in turn, depends on having a critical mass of people here who think foreign policy in general and the connection to Israel in specific are important to them, as Americans.

Jewish leaders see the same trend accelerating in our own  community.  Ask  Jews if they support Israel and they say, sure, why not?  Ask if they’re involved in any pro-Israel activism, and the answer is likely to be different.

That’s what the polls miss; Jewish leaders who ignore the trend do so at their own peril and the peril of the movement devoted to closer U.S.-Israel relations.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.