Torah Journalism


By Yonatan Gordon

There is a revolution taking place in the world of advertising called “content marketing.” For those interested in a good overview, read this recent piece from the Harvard Business Review. In short, instead of expensive billboards and display ads, advertisers are shifting their focus to content. To quote from the article:

Brands are no longer merely peddling products; they’re producing, unearthing, and distributing information. And because they do, the corporation becomes not just economically important to society, but intellectually essential as well.

Content Centric

Before I explain how content marketing relates to journalism and politics, let’s first mention another article– a Forbes piece is about two Israel-based start-ups, Outbrain and Taboola. The full article is here, but I would like to once again quote one brief section:

The interesting thing here is that both companies have convinced huge content creators, like The New York Times, CNN, and Time that it is worthwhile to link people off their site. Think about that? They are linking people to other content sites.

Peddling Information

Now on the surface it may appear that the Harvard Business Review and Forbes articles are speaking about two different aspects of content marketing. First there are the product peddlers who are awakening to the importance of information. Then there are content creators like The New York Times whose primary job it is to peddle information. Just now instead of directing visitors to banner ads, they are sending viewers off their site to read worthwhile articles elsewhere.

But the first glance reading of these two stories is missing something most profound. In order to appreciate what is happening here some more, we should first mentioned that–as noted in the Harvard Business Review article–big-name companies are now hiring top-talent journalists.

To quote again from this article:

When it’s done right, brand publishing encourages companies to mine internal resources and expertise in order to become intellectual agents. Today, large corporations are becoming their own media companies, news bureaus, research universities, and social networks.

What am I getting at? That the battle being waged on the information superhighway is now focused on answering one question: Which content provider is most likely to have the most worthwhile answers related to my interests?

Why doesn’t The New York Times, CNN and Time mind that you are clicking away from their site? Because you began on their site. And if you began on their site, even though you later clicked away from it, the likelihood is that you will go back to that initial hub site the next time around.

But this logic is also similar for why brands are now hiring top-talent journalists. When Tesla Motors hired technology journalist Hamish Mckenzie it was an effort to become more of a source for genuine and compelling content about electric cars. The fact that Hamish now works for Tesla, and that presumably his articles will now be about Tesla cars and technology, is a secondary consideration. Of primary importance is whether the public views Hamish’s writing to be authentic and genuine. And if Tesla does manage to produce the most genuinely sounding news stories about electric cars, then they have already done more than any amount of billboards or display ads could hope and accomplish.

The Content Revolution

Let’s think about the “content marketing revolution” title used for the headline of the Harvard Business Review article quoted above. When we conceptualize these words, we realize the discussion hinges on who is viewed as the center of the “content solar system”? While there are many websites that provide news, each one hopes to be the “hub” for the others.

Now we can now turn to a third article of interest. This one was written based on a class given at Stanford University in 2005 from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh entitled, “Scientific Progress from the Geocentric to the Heliocentric Descriptions of the Solar System.”

While I encourage you to read that article, I thought to quote these two paragraphs:

…as we have mentioned, there was no dispute between Torah and science as to what revolved around what. According to the Holy Ruzhiner, there must have been some change in the way the tzadikim (righteous persons) in Copernicus’ time served God that affected the way science perceived the universe…

Through their service of God, the tzadikim who diligently study the higher perspective of the Torah (Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism), succeed in raising themselves out of the lower, egocentric perspective on reality [i.e., an earth-centered, geocentric solar system] and begin to see how God perceives the world [i.e., a sun-centered, heliocentric solar system].

What Does All This Mean For Us?

There have been a few progressions to the logic, so let’s try and explain it step by step.

The first level is where we appreciated the shift in consciousness from peddling products to content and information. This then led us to recognize the primacy of content marketing over product marketing, a shift which has prompted brands to begin hiring talented writers and journalists to promote their brand. Today hiring a top-talent journalist is even more essential than hiring an expensive marketing agency to create flashy billboards, display ads, TV commercials, etc…

When we think deeper into this discussion, we also begin to redefine what is at the center of our content solar system. Previously perhaps we thought that Yahoo!–with its links to all sorts of content–was the epitome of an internet hub or portal site. And Google–although the content on the homepage itself is intentionally sparse–a portal site because their search algorithms lead visitors to billions of other sites on the internet.

But we are now entering a new era where being the first site to visit is not enough. This is the inner reason why Outbrain and Taboola have been successful. Not because it has allowed The New York Times, CNN, Time, and other clients to turn their sites into greater portals for other interesting content. The inner reason, as with the reason that top-talent journalists are now being hired by brands, is that people expect the site at the center of the content solar system to somehow contain more genuine and authentic content.

This is what Rabbi Ginsburgh called in his class the shift toward a more spiritual perspective on the universe. Whereas the “egocentric perspective on reality,” earth-centric, sees only products and ads created to promote these products, the spiritual perspective places the tzadik, the truth promoting “sun” at the center.

Torah Journalism

With these thoughts in mind we can now turn to the title of this article:  What is Torah Journalism?

Take for example the battle over promoting the truth about Israel and Operation Protective Edge to the world. As we know, there is no shortage of leftist media outlets that seek to distort the news. When then should our Torah response be?

The first thought to keep in mind is that since the Jewish people are called “a light unto the nations,” and since public consciousness is shifting toward reading genuine content instead of flashy marketing, then the very best thing we could do is make sure our news reporting is in accordance with the Torah. It is one thing to explain CNN’s bias during a CNN interview as was recently done. But a better result would to become a more attractive, more light-filled source for news. Assuming that the people have begun waking up to the truth, now that they have begun to search for genuine content, where should they turn? This should be the Jewish public’s first concern. To increase the light emanating from Jewish media outlets by aligning ever-closer to Torah ideals. For instance, Rabbi Ginsburgh recently stated: “In time of war, it is unethical for a nation to endanger the lives of its own soldiers in order to ensure the safety of inhabitants in enemy territory, after having been warned to evacuate.” Publicizing statements like these from Torah figures are much preferred to attacking left-wing media outlets. Again, the presumption is already that the public is awakening to the falsehood of these outlets. The most effective way to speed up this awakening, however, is not through attack, but through increasing the light that we emanate. Even if 99% of news sites are not currently promoting news in accordance with the Torah, the 1% of Torah-true light wins out every time.



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