12 June 2009

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Headlines

What if poets wrote the news?

In a bold experiment with user-generated content, Israel's influential Haaretz newspaper sent most of its reporters home on Wednesday and turned 31 of the nation's authors and poets loose to fill the pages.

The idea behind the paper’s June 10 special edition was to honour Israel’s annual Hebrew Book Week by inviting Israeli authors to bear witness to the events of the day, according to an article in the Jewish Daily Forward.

While a few journalists stayed in the newsroom in case of breaking news (nothing major happened), the paper was filled with articles by the poets and novelists, from the lead headline to the weather report.

"We really tried to give a real newspaper," Haaretz editor-in-chief Dov Alfon said. "Thirty-one writers decided, what are the real events of the day? What is really important in their eyes? They wrote about it, and our priorities as journalists were suddenly shaken by this."

Haaretz, founded in 1918, is the nation's oldest Hebrew-language daily. Its brand has been distinguished by "highlighting Israeli cultural, literary and artistic life with a vigor unmatched by its competitors," the Forward's Daniel Estrin writes. It has a relatively small but elite national audience of around 50,000, bolstered by an international audience for its English-language online edition.

A sampling of the contributions from the nation's literary lights to the special Wednesday edition:

* Renowed novelist David Grossman spent a night at a children's drug rehab centre in Jerusalem and wrote a front-page story about tender exchanges among the patients. His article ends: "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."

* 79-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk, a cancer patient, wrote about couples in a hospital cancer ward. "A woman walking with a cane brings her partner a cup of coffee with a trembling hand. The looks they exchange are sexier than any performance by Madonna and cost a good deal less," he wrote. "I think about what would happen if I were to get better ... how I would live without the human delicacy to which I am witness?"

* There were lighter contributions, too. For instance, it's always hot during the summer in Israel, so what's new to say? A weather report in the form of a poem by Roni Somek drew on a metaphor: "Summer is the pencil/that is least sharp/in the seasons’ pencil case."

* And finally, there was the stock market summary from author Avri Herling. It read: "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 ..."

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