Back to the Future

Some call him a pragmatist, while he describes himself as a startup guy. Shilo De-Beer, the new chief editor of Yedioth Ahronoth, is on a mission to stem the newspaper's declining circulation.

Until his appointment was announced last week, Shilo De-Beer, Yedioth Ahronoth's new editor, has exerted his influence behind the scenes without taking responsibility. For more than two years, he was the special assignments man for publisher Arnon Mozes, but he did not hold any official title.

"When the producers were waging a copyright battle against Hot [which Mozes co-owns - A.C.], someone suggested arranging a meeting with a person very close to Mozes in the hope that it might help us," says movie director Ori Inbar. "We met Shilo in a cafe and he constantly insinuated to us that he was not really involved. So we just had a pleasant chat and nothing really came out of it. A few months later, at the peak of the battle, the chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, Yoram Mokadi, called me and said Hot wanted to meet with us. We came to the council's offices and Shilo was there waiting for us. He immediately said 'How much money do you want?' It was highly amusing to discover that the person who wasn't really involved was actually the one who put an end to the situation."

As far as De-Beer is concerned, his comfortable work arrangement could have lasted for longer. "When I told him, 'One day you'll be the editor of Yedioth Ahronoth,'" says one of his friends, "he answered, 'I'm not interested in a regular job with responsibility, I just want to consult.'" However, Mozes decided that he needs De-Beer up front.

After two years of being managed by former chief editor Rafi Ginat, Yedioth Ahronoth needs some thorough shaking up. At a time when all the world's newspapers are finding their way among the new media, primarily the Internet, Yedioth Ahronoth is perceived as stagnating. Although it is still the best-selling newspaper in Israel, recent TGI polls indicate that its circulation is steadily shrinking.

De-Beer, who has yet to turn 40, has already held senior positions at Yedioth Ahronoth and Channel 10 and also has experience in the high-tech industry. To Mozes, he looks like the right person to bring the paper forward.

Sudoku days

De-Beer was born in 1968 in Dusseldorf, Germany to Israeli parents who went there to study. His father is an architect and his mother is a counselor of kindergarten teachers. He has two brothers and a sister. When he was a child, his family returned to Israel and his parents decided to move to Midreshet Sde Boker for Zionist reasons, as he has related in the past. De-Beer grew up there and also studied at the Midrasha. When he was drafted, he enlisted in a flight training course but was dropped after a few months and then switched to the Yael Reconnaissance Unit of the Engineering Corps, where he served as an officer. After his discharge he worked as a bodyguard for businessmen in Eastern Europe and also spent some time in Japan, supporting himself by selling pictures. Later on he would boast to some of his friends that he was the one who imported the Japanese Sudoku puzzles to Israel.

In the early 1990s, for the first time in its history, Yedioth Ahronoth organized a course for editors to gain new staff for the news desk, which at the time was manned mostly by older editors who had worked at the paper for many years. Thousands applied to the course and only ten people were accepted, among them De-Beer and the man who will serve as his deputy, Ron Yaron. The new junior editors quickly stood out and were promoted to desk chiefs within a short period of time. De-Beer then became a close friend of Miki Rosenthal, who was the head of Yedioth Ahronoth's news department. He also became close to Eylon Shalev, who was appointed the newspaper's editor in 1996.

De-Beer met his first wife, Oshrit Kadmon, at Yedioth Ahronoth. She was the secretary of then editor-in-chief, Moshe Vardi. In 1996, shortly after their marriage, the two went on an outing and on the northern border road their car hit a cow. Kadmon, who was pregnant, was sitting in the backseat and was killed on the spot. A few years later De-Beer got married again, to Hila Alroi, Shalev's niece (Shalev was Vardi's replacement). At the time, Alroi was a general correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth and afterward she became Ma'ariv's health correspondent. A few months ago the couple separated, and De-Beer has continued to live in their Kfar Sava penthouse apartment with the couple's two children.

News out of nowhere

When Mozes decided to get rid of Shalev and bring back Vardi as editor-in-chief, after he was acquitted of most of the charges in the indictment issued against him in the wiretapping case (a scandal involving the chief editors of Yedioth and Ma'ariv in the mid-'90s, who accused each other of wiretapping), several senior newspaper officials were upset about the decision. Among the rebels were Rosenthal, Nachum Barnea, Sever Plotzker, Ron Ben-Yishai, the weekend supplement editor Ram Landes and also De-Beer. Rosenthal resigned in protest and De-Beer and Landes also left a few months later.

During the days of the high-tech bubble Rosenthal and De-Beer together set up a startup company dealing in artificial intelligence. After a few months, Rosenthal left and De-Beer moved on to another startup that developed content for cellular systems. After about two years, they again joined forces: Rosenthal developed a news program for the Children's Channel and De-Beer served as his consultant.

In 2002, the director general of Channel 10, Modi Friedman, asked De-Beer to check the feasibility of setting up an independent news company for the channel, which back then was broadcasting news produced by the Israel News Company. De-Beer thought the channel should produce the new program itself, but he didn't want to head the new company. He suggested to the station's executives that they hire Landes, who had worked with him at Yedioth Ahronoth and had also been the editor of Channel 2's Ulpan Shishi (Friday Evening) program. Within a few months, the two established the Hadashot 10 company from scratch. Correspondents who worked for them then describe De-Beer, who was Landes' deputy, as an especially brilliant and creative editor. "There are some people who are blessed with an ability for ideas and motivate other people to create," says journalist Yaron London. "Shilo is one of them. He is a very creative person."

De-Beer strove to position Hadashot 10 as an upstart and biting alternative to Channel 2 News. He sent Emmanuel Rosen to visit the Greek island that was the focus of the surprising deal between businessman David Appel and Gilad Sharon, the son of then prime minister Ariel Sharon, and set up a paparazzi ambush outside the home of Yehiel Horev, the acting director of the Defense Ministry, whose name was just then allowed to be published. He also took pride in the fact that Hadashot 10 disclosed the name of Nili Priel, Ehud Barak's girlfriend. On the other hand, De-Beer ordered his correspondents to refrain from preparing reports on the funerals of the victims of terrorist attacks and on the victims' families, unless they themselves requested it. "The families are already suffering enough without it," he wrote to his employees.

Everything is material

People who know De-Beer well describe him as having a highly developed business sense. In 2003, when Channel 10 faced a financial crisis and started freezing its operations, he launched a series of lightweight documentaries, including a series on the life of model Moran Atias in Italy, which filled up the programming schedule and were referred to at the channel as "instant productions." During his tenure, correspondents were sent abroad at the expense of commercial bodies and the news programs also featured reports comparing different bed-and-breakfasts and airlines, strongly resembling marketing programs.

"Shilo spends all day brainstorming with himself," says one Channel 10 correspondent. "There are a lot of advantages to it, but also some disadvantages. There was always total organizational chaos around him, he didn't have any patience for bureaucracy." Another correspondent describes De-Beer as an editor who never lost it. "He never shouted when you made a mistake," says the correspondent. "He would just say 'too bad' in a tone that did not leave room for error. In general, he communicated mostly via text messages. We called him 'Robotrick' behind his back."

In 2005, De-Beer left Channel 10 News after just two years on the job. "I'm a startup guy," he told one correspondent who called to say good-bye, "as soon as I sense that a place is starting to toe the line, it's hard for me to remain." He moved to the Yedioth Ahronoth group to serve as a special consultant to Arnon Mozes. It turns out that his departure from the paper in 2000 after Shalev's dismissal did not result in any hard feelings. "Noni [Arnon Mozes] can also reach out to a bitter rival if he thinks it will be useful," says a common friend, "and Shilo left less for ideological reasons and more because of a sense of having exhausted his opportunities and because his friends left."

Over the last two years, De-Beer has been Mozes' representative in dealings with Hot and was also in charge of technology at Yedioth Ahronoth. In the clash surrounding the report on Eli Landau (the article accused the former chairman of Israel Electric Company of corruption), which led to the dismissal of the editor of the "7 Days" supplement Nir Bachar (now the editor of the Haaretz weekend supplement), he backed the position of the paper's editor, Ginat, who felt that the report should be rejected and did not accept Bachar's argument that the rejection stemmed from political considerations.

Journalists who have worked with De-Beer in the past are convinced that even as editor-in-chief, he will, when necessary, opt for a similar approach when it comes to rejecting articles. "It's hard for me to imagine De-Beer being cutthroat in a fight over stories whose publication Mozes wants to prevent," says a senior journalist. "Shilo is an intense pragmatist," says another journalist. "He isn't a particularly ethical person. It's not that he's a bad person, God forbid, but he doesn't have extreme views, to the right or to the left, radical ideas about the environment or a particular sensitivity to the plight of the unfortunate. In this respect, he is very suitable for Yedioth Ahronoth. For him, everything in life is material, which can be kneaded and transformed into headlines and stories. He doesn't want to repair the world, only to create interesting media that sells."

Since his appointment was announced last week, De-Beer has already managed to adopt the customary practice of senior Yedioth Ahronoth officials and is not giving interviews. It is therefore hard to assess the nature of the changes he plans to make at the paper, but based on a single interview he gave in the past, it is still possible to determine that he is very dissatisfied with the current situation. "Yedioth today has too much background noise, and too little reporting about the who's who and what's what," he said in a July 2004 interview in Ha'Ir. "Once they used to pluck talented writers and editors from their competitors, sweep them clean, the way Maccabi Tel Aviv does in basketball. Today that is no longer and that's the threat to the Yedioth formula. Because if you don't reinvigorate, reinforce, rethink, initiate and create, the circulation is destined to drop."