When I was in telephonic sales for Dutch newspapers (for 12 years), I learned that a negative opinion about our papers was not necessarily an indication that the reader was not interested. Longer and more detailed objections were signs that our paper was read very well and long by the potential client. So, I learned to listen to all the objections and then reply: May I sign you up for more? Most of the time the answer was yes.
The Jerusalem Post has some strong writers on a select number of subjects but it’s now a far cry from what it used to be. However, in one thing in particular, they are stronger than any other quality Israel-focused outlet.
They don’t remove comments critical of them. And I can know. Half of their articles I comment on and 90% I trash what’s written. It’s good for their money because I stay more seconds on their site and so do others reading my (and others’) comments. It’s not altruism. It also makes me more fond of them. It’s as if they are willing to listen to what I write.
Unfortunately, very different policies seem in place at the left-leaning Times of Israel, rabid anti-Zionistic Haaretz, or ultra-nationalistic Arutz7. There, any comment by me is automatically removed. If I refresh after posting, my comment disappeared. These consumers of a free press and self-declared defenders of free speech don’t want this in their own house.
Of course, I could just write my nationalistic comments on the Arutz7 site, my humanist ones on the Haaretz site, and my middle-of the-road ones at the Times of Israel site, but that feels opportunistic and dishonest.
Yes, their policy means that many comments on the Jerusalem Post site are extremist. Yet, that gives me beautiful opportunities to show good hasbara, arguments to counter Anti-Zionist or anti-Judaistic comments. I want to call upon all of them to welcome dissidents. No, they don’t need to leave bigoted reactions (they shouldn’t). But open dissent should be OK. The time has gone that only a token amount of reaction could be printed. They’re free to publish whatever they wish. Will they allow others this too? Yes, the Times has opened its arms to 10,000 bloggers, no questions asked. That’s still not the same as welcoming (all) readers’ comments.
The Times of Israel refused to publish this. They replied to me:
If you have a complaint about your comments disappearing on The Times of Israel, please email […], and we’ll see if we can get to the bottom of it. As far as we know, you are not blocked from commenting, and nobody is deleting your comments. A blog post, especially in the current milieu, is not the way to address this.
Of course I did, not believing them. The issue was not me being censored but that they sensor anyone. I asked a friend to ask them exactly what they requested:
Any comments to the Times of Israel articles are automatically removed as soon as I post them.
I was advised to ask you to find out what can be done about it. If you receive this request in error, could you please direct this request to people at the TOI who are in charge of this?
My Facebook account is: […]
If you don’t intend to solve this, you don’t need to answer me.
After a couple of days, she reminded them:
Please note this email in case you missed it, or it didn’t arrive.
No reply, no action. She can still not comment. Then I wrote to them:
You rejected my blog post saying that I should sort out my problems with the TOI in communication with you instead of blogging about it. However, my point was not that I have a problem with the TOI but that the TOI, together with two other quality outlets, has a problem with respecting readers’ feedback. The rejection of this blog post also smacks after this.
However, I asked a friend to write exactly what you requested, to be allowed to comment again. She did not get a reply. She sent a reminder. She did not get a reply. Her comments are still automatically removed.
Therefore, to show that no one is perfect, even the TOI not, would you still publish my critical blog post? Just like saying sorry doesn’t diminish our standing, allowing for criticism doesn’t make us look bad.
You never had a problem with my vitriolic blog post about the Jerusalem Post. And your motto is fair reporting. I hope you don’t take this call for fairness as an encouragement to now also begin blocking criticisms on other publications.
Fairness, honesty, and freedom of expression are almost all I expect.
I would be so happy to add to my blog post: “Because of this blog post, an internal discussion has taken place, and the TOI has decided from now on to remove all automatic cancellation of comments. Instead, it will expect readers to report abuse or bigotry, after which, when found to be true, they will remove only that comment.”
However, I’m not looking for a fight with you. It’s your paper, it’s your editing of blogs. Your generous acceptance and editing of so many bloggers is unique and looks very good on you. So if that’s what there is, so be it.
There came a swift reply, still the same day. After first denying that anybody’s comments are automatically removed, a senior editor confirmed to me that “some people have been blocked from commenting after incendiary comments, but those people do usually know who they are (and their comments are not removed; they never appear).” Back to the denial, she added “Nobody is out to delete comments from the site — honestly, we don’t have time.” That was the point exactly. That it’s done automatically. She then added that this is a policy of years already. I just reiterated my request is to empty out the blacklist of individuals.
In the reply it was denied “that one incendiary comment will get a commenter blocked from commenting.” That is strange because an hour before, she wrote that they don’t have the time to evaluate comments. So, keeping track of which persons left “incendiary comments” is not possible. But they’re willing to check if any of my comments are removed (stating before that no comments are removed but don’t even appear in the case of blacklisting). Well, I know they are. But I’m not the issue. The issue is that the Jerusalem Post allows a vibrant discussion and the TOI, Arutz7, and Haaretz do not.
She added (not so) finely: “I don’t know how much time you spend reading the talk-backs, but given how many vituperative, vile comments remain, you can imagine how bad it must be for one to be blocked.” Having had dozens of my blog posts rejected by the TOI, I don’t doubt that I’m considered bad enough to be blocked automatically permanently. And who knows how many with me. But when you see the lively discussions at the JPost and the pastoral silence at the TOI, you’ll have a clue.