Uri's Test

Uri passed the test, but the education system has failed: It has not managed to bring the younger generation back to the newspapers.

Uri had a test last week: a matriculation exam in communication. Uri is my son. His excellent teacher, Kinneret, who knows what Uri's father does for a living, recommended that I help him prepare for the test. I set about the task happily and together we went over the material.

Uri, who like many of his friends, does not read the newspaper much, if at all, was required to know what "pleasant and easy routinization" is, what the difference is between the "authoritarian model" and the "totalitarian model," what socialization is, as well as the meaning of edutainment, the "hypodermic theory", the "spiral of silence," the "near-certainty test" and the Lasswell formula. Thirty years a journalist, 20 years a lecturer on journalism, and I had never heard of a good many of those terms.

Uri saw his father's shame, but that is not the issue. At least part of the study material did not stir in him a desire to read newspapers. The test was fair. Some of the questions involved the right issues with which the media is grappling, even if question 7 did state: "In the crisis between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli media shows great openness in all coverage of the crisis..." So be it.

Uri passed the test, but the education system has failed: It has not managed to bring the younger generation back to the newspapers. Not to books, and not to newspapers. Learning American models and strange terms by rote will not help develop love of newspapers, in which we, in our childhood, took so much pleasure.

I still remember the intoxicating scent of print, when my aunt from Jerusalem bought me Ma'ariv at the hole-in-the-wall kiosk of the soccer stadium in Katamon; I remember the delivery man, who at the crack of dawn threw our papers up to the third floor with the precision of a sharpshooter, and waiting for the mailman to bring us the children's weekly Haaretz Shelanu with the unforgettable pieces of advice from "Hillel the guide." All that is gone forever.

The country is full of communications schools with thousands of students of a special breed: students of journalism who do not read newspapers. This is not only a matter of intellectual integrity and their use of their leisure time; it is about the quality of our regime. With only three or four dailies, some of which are on the verge of economic collapse, our fragile democracy is in real danger.

Add to that cross-ownership, self-censureship, newspapers that are partly mouthpieces, and compartmentalization of issues, positions, and social and political groups, the distorted coverage of various areas - and a discouraging picture emerges. And we have not yet said a word about the takeover by the Internet, which threatens to ruin the little that is left.

A moment before newspapers disappear, journalism, and no less so agents of education, have a rescue mission to carry out. When parents no longer read the newspaper at breakfast, it is difficult to expect a generation to grow up here that will love print, as we did. To teach children the Lasswell formula sounds "scientific" but misses the mark. When there are no more newspapers here, we will be left with the model, and with a vacuum more dangerous than any other.