Thursday, March 11, 2010

Being There

I'm free to write here about any subject in this world, except journalism. I'm employed under a contract with Israel's second most widespread newspaper, Israel Haiyom, and have made a vow of confidentiality to it, which I intend to respect.

I will tell you though, that I suspect IH and myself are headed for a divorce, or at least a return to casual friendship. No blame. The paper and myself are just mismatched. It took us three years to reach this conclusion. That's not long. It took seven years before I realized such a mismatch existed between me and my ex-wife.

One way in which the paper and I are mismatched has to do with my love of "Gonzo journalism": Journalism that centers on the recounting of experiences. Before writing to Israel hayom, I specialized in such pieces. Once, for Haaretz, I tried to ride in one day the entire NYC subway system and go through each of its 468 stations. Another time, writing for the Hebrew edition of National Geographic Traveler, I disguised myself as a South African backpacker and stayed a week in a Jerusalem hostel. I learned more about my native city on that week than ever in my life.

One of my articles that appeared in the weekly supplement of IH, described a visit to Teufelsberg. An abandoned American intelligence facility outside Berlin. My friend Anna and myself climbed a barbed wire fence on a misty day (see above image) and explored the complex.

As we expected, none of the old equipment remained in the site. The huge globe-like canopies that used to shield sensative antenae are now hollow planetariums. Retreating after Berlin's reunification, the Americans made sure to even remove the screwes that fastened them to the floor, lest someone deducts from these the nature of the devices.

My editors found themselves pleasently surprised. Here was a story about nothing. Two happy-go-lucky travelers walk into a building that turns out to be empty. "This piece holds its water solely thanks to your writing ability" one of them told me. "It's refreshing, in the sea of revelations and exposures."

That was the end of it, though. I can't just refresh all the time, I need to supply the beef in order to bring home the bacon, to chat with celebrities and find out saucy stories, otherwise the readers will ditch IH for its competitors. I respect that. I'm not here to whine about the current state of the press and weep over how competition has cheapened the Israeli media to an intolerable degree, nor do I moan that political biases render the treatment of actual issues virtually impossible. I would like, however, to assert that I believe in what I do.

I believe that fine journalism is an art. I believe that it can be truly delightful literature. I believe that journalism can make a difference through the telling of stories. I believe that we can reflect the world in articles, we can reveal its diversity and complexity, capture its many ambiences and remind, daily, how fascinating it is. If anyone out there knows of an oppurtunity for someone who holds these beliefs, feel free to write me at

I'll conclude by posting a few photos from Teufelsberg, and raising two toasts: one - for the wonderful people who've worked with me in IH, and with whom I still hope to freelance from time to time. Another - for the love of life and letters, and pictures, of course.


lazy_n said...

I love the picture of the geodesic dome next to the tower that isn't, but looks so much like, a russian onion church steeple. you know i have an extremely poor sense for architecture, and these are basically the two shapes that i can always identify :)

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