Israeli newspaper uses poets, novelists to cover news

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Journalists are notorious for seeing the world through concise, tight, punchy language. This is part of a centuries-old tradition of how people can process information more quickly. However, one of the problems with this tradition — however well-intentioned — is that can often become dry and predictable.

One week ago, the editor-in-chief of Ha’aretz, Israel’s largest Hebrew-language daily newspaper, replaced nearly all of his news writing staff with a team of 31 authors and poets.

According to an article in the Jewish-American magazine The Forward, the experiment achieved some surprising results:

Among those articles were gems like the stock market summary, by author Avri Herling. It went like this: “Everything’s okay. Everything’s like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything’s okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place… Dow Jones traded steadily and closed with 8,761 points, Nasdaq added 0.9% to a level of 1,860 points…. The guy from the shakshuka [an Israeli egg-and-tomato dish] shop raised his prices again….” The TV review by Eshkol Nevo opened with these words: “I didn’t watch TV yesterday.” And the weather report was a poem by Roni Somek, titled “Summer Sonnet.” (“Summer is the pencil/that is least sharp/in the seasons’ pencil case.”) News junkies might call this a postmodern farce, but considering that the stock market won’t be soaring anytime soon, and that “hot” is really the only weather forecast there is during Israeli summers, who’s to say these articles aren’t factual?

Alongside these cute reports were gripping journalistic accounts. David Grossman, one of Israel’s most famed novelists, spent a night at a children’s drug rehabilitation center in Jerusalem and wrote a cover page story about the tender exchanges between the patients, ending the article in the style of a celebrated author who’s treated like a prophet: “I lay in bed and thought wondrously how, amid the alienation and indifference of the harsh Israeli reality, such islands — stubborn little bubbles of care, tenderness and humanity — still exist.” Grossman’s pen transformed a run-of-the-mill feature into something epic.

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