In Israeli Desert Town, Print Newspapers Are All the Rage

Small Negev town of 30,000 sports 11 weekly print newspapers.

Yanir Yagna
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Yanir Yagna

All the news that fits in Netivot

When Hananya Dadon in 1977 published the first issue of his local weekly newspaper, Eliton, everyone thought he was nuts and that it was a caprice he would soon get over. "It'll last a month or two, maximum," was what he heard from the locals in Netivot.

In the late 1970s, Netivot was a development town of 5,000 people. "I had the only newspaper," says Dadon. "We'd go from house to house to distribute it." At first the paper covered mainly politics to get people's attention. "We started in black and white. Conditions were very hard. We would print the paper in Be'er Sheva. I called the newspaper Eliton because we wanted sponsorship from the Elite company. This isn't a business you get rich from. Most of the people who started local newspapers afterward just wanted influence in town." Netivot 2012 is not at all reminiscent of those days. Scores of new businesses have opened in recent years, people come to the pubs from all over the south and nearly 30,000 people live in town. Along with the increase in population and number of businesses, the local weekly newspaper industry has been booming - there are 11 weeklies here. That's a lot of newsprint for a Negev town; in Be'er Sheva, which crossed the 200,000 population mark about half a year ago, there only a few weeklies.

Axes to grind

Though everyone is eulogizing the print media, in Netivot they are having a rebirth. "Eliton, Tzahov, Shofar, Sabras, Magazine, Inyan Ba'ir, La'inyan, Hashavua Badarom, Hadashot Shelanu, Tatzpit and Din Veheshbon arrive every Friday at the newsstands in town and most of the copies get taken home. "Like in all the other businesses in Netivot, in the area of local weeklies there has also been a boom," says Nehemia Twito, owner and editor-in-chief of Tzahov. "The residents of Netivot like to know what's happening in town and the local weeklies have become an integral part of the scene."

Most of the weeklies are aimed at the general population, but three compete for readers among the ultra-Orthodox, who make up one-quarter of the population. "Netivot has developed tremendously in recent years, which makes it possible for everyone to earn a living," says Yaakov Ma'alimi, editor of Hadashot Shelanu, "but there are weeklies that have opened not for the sake of earning a living, such as one that has been opened with funding from a certain (rabbi's ) court, or one that has been opened to rant against the mayor and his family and discredit him no matter what he does or doesn't do." Says Ma'alimi: "The ultra-Orthodox public attributes a lot of importance to the written word. They read newspapers avidly and therefore advertising in the local weeklies is considered the most effective way to reach the Haredi sector. It should be noted that the newspapers purchased in the ultra-Orthodox sector are passed along from hand to hand and every newspaper is given to neighbors, friends and relatives, which ensures a circulation far larger than the number of copies sold."

About a year ago, Eyal Mesika, head of the opposition in Netivot's municipal council, started the Sabras weekly, which continually criticizes Mayor Yehiel Zohar. "I've published the newspaper only because none of the other local weeklies criticized the mayor. My newspaper is the only one."

Says Zohar: "As someone who has been consumed with this town for more than two decades, I am aware of the importance of the newspapers and I accept profound, constructive and relevant criticism with love. It is testimony to Netivot's lively political awareness and the residents' involvement in what happens in the town. Local newspaper owners have to maintain a high level of journalistic integrity." The town's leading national celebrity, faith-healing Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan ("The X-ray" ), also has a foothold in the local weekly newspaper industry. For the past two years, some of his associates have been putting out Inyan Ba'ir to further strengthen Ifergan's public profile. "There were a few times when we tried to get across the rabbi's messages and didn't succeed, but we're succeeding through the weekly," said one of Ifergan's many aides.

Tsahov reporter Shimon Ben Kimon has been covering the local scene for 30 years, and he considers himself both a watchdog and booster for Netivot. "I see my journalistic work at the local weeklies as a kind of public mission - to bring human interest stories to light alongside investigative stories that are important to the residents. "For some 30 years now I've been covering what happens in our area," he said, "and I'm happy to say I've published scoops and and also stories that show the people of our area in a positive light."

Netivot's weekly print newspapers.Credit: Ilan Assayag



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