Before the 2004 U.S. elections, I considered political news on the Internet to be an addendum to the breaking news I would get from cable TV or the serious journalism of newspapers and magazines. But as the 2004 elections neared in October of that year, I realized that any serious political junkie was getting a much better fix on what was going on by reading blogs than any wire service report or TV sound bite.
I would pick up a newspaper and read about campaign stops with stock photos of candidates waving. The TV news was usually not much different, with video taken from these same campaign stops. But on political blogs, the debate and conjecture raged on about poll numbers in various regions, campaign strategy, and every minute detail was examined over and over again.
And on Tuesday, when I wanted to follow what was happening during Election Day in Israel, on the other side of the globe, it made sense that I would again turn to blogs. I have no access to Israeli TV and my knowledge of Hebrew is pretty weak (I spent a year in Israel back in 1984). But thankfully, various independent bloggers — and even a couple Big Media bloggers — helped give me immediate poll results, analysis and more on the victory by the centrist Kadima Party.
Online journalist Alan Abbey, who was the founder and editor of Ynetnews, now runs his own independent editorial service, Abbey Content Enterprises. He decided to live-blog the elections, and noted how this election was the first one in Israel after the rise of blogs. On his blog, Abbey explained how he equated blogging with the way an old wire reporter might write many versions of the story as it’s breaking.
“In 1980 I was a young reporter at the Burlington Free Press and spent election night in the newsroom,” Abbey wrote. “I’ll never forget watching with awe as I saw and read the most remarkable output of copy in an evening I ever have seen. Walter Mears, then still working as an AP reporter, produced a remarkable 18 complete write-throughs of the main national election story…Each story was completely ‘written through’ in wirespeak — different ledes, quotes and facts throughout.”
But when Abbey did his live blogging of the election, he did more than rewrite the same story over and over. He included links to many other news sources online, and wrote about what he was seeing on various TV channels in Israel. Abbey wrote about the poor showing of the conservative Likud party, and the surprising showing of the conservative Israel Our Home party, and he even mentions the Katyusha rocket attack from Gaza into Israel.
But Abbey’s work looks spare compared to other Israeli bloggers who took on live-blogging duty on March 28. Israellycool, a blog penned by an Australian man named Dave who’s living in Israel, offers a minute-by-minute account of the day, from 8:40 am until 11:50 pm. Dave included details on everything from the low voter turnout to a case of bird flu on an Israeli kibbutz to various attempts by the big political parties to get out the vote.
And journalist/blogger Allison Kaplan Sommer did Dave one better by providing what I would call in-depth live blogging on her Unsealed Room blog, with much more commentary than I’ve seen from many other sources — including Western newspapers outside of Israel. On one post, she ruminates on why so many young folks didn’t turn out to vote:
“In a perverse way, this is what the Zionist founding fathers wanted — they wanted the Jewish state to be a normal state like any other. Well, big swaths of our society are doing just that — they are just like any other Western country, taking their state and their democracy for granted, and being too individualistic and bubble-headed to understand why it’s worth taking the trouble to cast a ballot. Morons.
“Too bad someone couldn’t put out a false report that Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox parties are staging a surprise surge, will win the elections and are going to close down the cafes, nightclubs, and beaches. That would get them to the polls pretty quick.”
A couple honorable mentions are in order as well when it comes to blogging the Israeli elections. My hometown San Francisco Chronicle, which I read almost daily in print (imagine that!) but more rarely read online, ran a link on its print edition election coverage to a newish blog called World Views. The idea is to give readers a roundup of what world news sources are writing about a subject of interest to the local audience. (Too bad the blog’s web address is impossible to remember.)
But Edward Gomez, who pens this new blog for SFGate, doesn’t give enough of his own view on the subject, relying much more on various pull-quotes from Israeli news sources. And there’s absolutely no links to other blogs — why?
But the biggest problem for Gomez is that he’s following in the virtual footsteps of Jeff Morley at Washingtonpost.com and his World Opinion Roundup report, now in blog format. Morley didn’t do a roundup on the Israeli elections, but he had already filed two articles on the elections before they took place, including one with original reporting.
Still, I’ll give the two newspapers — or at least their online operations — credit for reaching out beyond their own newsroom to try to grasp foreign-based news from a foreign perspective. It’s a step beyond sound-bite journalism, but it doesn’t compare to the fantastic work done by the Israeli bloggers.
How did you follow the Israeli elections, if at all? Did your local newspaper give you satisfactory coverage? What do you think is the best way for journalists or bloggers to cover an election?
UPDATE: Dave from Israellycool emailed me with this update on his efforts:
“I also will be including some coverage on my podcast this week (I interviewed people here as to who they voted for and why). I should be uploading it tonight (Thursday) Israel time.”