Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Jerusalem Post?

As a rule, I turn to the Jerusalem Post for my local Israeli news. For even more local Jerusalem news, the JP has a weekly supplement called In Jerusalem. In Jerusalem has some worthwhile features, in particular Peggy Cidor's "Corridors of Power". But I have a problem with the way the JP in general, and IJ in particular, cover Jerusalem's peripheral neighborhoods -- Pisgat Ze'ev, Neve Ya'akov, Gilo, Har Homa, and other places where the bulk of the city's working people live ... the places where tourists have little to do.

A few weeks ago, In Jerusalem, which used to be available free online, became part of the Jerusalem Post's "Premium Zone" -- only registered, paying users can access the full texts of articles. I must admit that I find it a little strange to see In Jerusalem, whose print version used to be a kind of lovable local rag, become part of a package geared toward tourists (when you try to click on an IJ "Premium" article, you are invited to register by paying in dollars). The newspaper obviously has a right to do what it must in order to boost its income ... but from a resident's perspective, I am not pleased with all of this tourist-targeting.

The In Jerusalem article that prompted this post, "Who Will Remember Why It Was Called the German Colony?" (Barry Davis, January 13 2011), may be a "Premium" article, but it is not terribly interesting to those who place a premium on citywide coverage that reaches beneath the surface.

The article typifies the way in which the Jerusalem Post and In Jerusalem report on the city for which they are named. They have always lavished a disproportionate amount of attention on the chicer parts of town. To some degree this is understandable, as English-speaking tourists do tend to be more familiar with places like the German Colony than with, say, Gilo; they would have a more immediate interest in matters relating to the fabric of Emek Refaim Street than in the slow and agonizing death of the Gilo Mall -- a melancholy development that has been taking place over the last few years and represents a major planning fiasco and waste of invested resources -- yet which, to my knowledge, has been completely ignored by JP/IJ. Gilo, indeed, was written up fairly regularly during the period of the shootings from Beit Jala at height of the "Second Intifada." But in "normal" times, the JP shows very little interest in Jerusalem's peripheral neighborhoods.

The issue addressed by last week's IJ article is the impending destruction of a historical building on Emek Refaim, to make way for a "five-story edifice [...] to include two underground levels."

I applaud the concern expressed by local preservation activists for this very attractive old building. Preservation of such sites is certainly crucial to maintaining the charm of Jerusalem's more established areas. Preservation is also, obviously, an appropriate issue for the JP/IJ to cover regularly and in depth.

What I object to is the total lack of interest that the Jerusalem Post and In Jerusalem display regarding the architecture, design and development of the city's newer neighborhoods -- those places where "real" Jerusalemites live. When has there ever been an article in IJ about architectural trends in the newer neighborhoods? When has a JP/IJ columnist ever undertaken to analyze -- or interview someone professionally qualified to analyze -- the dreary garage-scapes that are being carved out of Jerusalem's hilly periphery?

Tourists are an important market for a Jerusalem newspaper to target; but the Israeli capital has a sizeable resident population of people who would rather read an English-language paper than a Hebrew one. Also, IMHO, non-residents who care about the city should be at least minimally interested in its less fashionable districts. Articles about the planning and architectural features of Jerusalem's peripheral neighborhoods might well open up a new world of interest for people who, though they don't live here, nevertheless (as I put it in my introductory post) "have the dignity of Jerusalem, and the well-being of its residents, at heart."

Preservation of heritage sites is a necessary, valuable, admirable thing. So is ensuring that the buildings currently being constructed will themselves be candidates for preservation a hundred years from now. Taking care of history is not enough. The future has to be taken care of as well.

A newspaper that bears Jerusalem's name could show a little more concern for Jerusalem's future. Until it does, I'm not sure I really want to pay to read it.