Thursday, January 13, 2005

Reactions to me-the-Journalist

When I call someone and say "I'm a journalist writing an article about your project/business/organization -- can we set up a time to talk or meet?" there are different ways of categorizing the reactions.

I could say "there are two kinds of people: The ones who are immediately happy to get the publicity and the ones who automatically assume I am biased against them and will write something unbalanced and negative."

I could say "there are two kinds of people: The ones who trust me to do my job well, and the ones who try to control me by insisting, for example, on seeing the entire article for 'approval' before it is printed" [a request I never grant, by the way; there would be no end to it].

I could say "there are two kinds of people: those who give articulate, to-the-point interviews that make me happy [Sarah's note: I love interviewing lawyers for this reason], and those who annoy me by going on and on and on about whatever is important to them, without answering my questions."

Something I've noticed since moving to Israel is this:

There are two kinds of people: the ones who, when we meet in person, hardly seem to notice that I'm wearing a long skirt and am obviously a "frum girl," and the ones who are visibly startled that the female journalist they were expecting to show up turned out to be a religious woman.

The interesting part of this is that secular Israelis almost never seem surprised that I'm religious. They don't even seem to notice, though they must. For all I can tell, my religious identity doesn't even register with them. They're like "hi, thanks for coming, let me show you around." But other religious people are almost always surprised -- they often tell me so-- and, almost as often, are visibly or vocally relieved.

The relief part I sort of understand. Particularly if the article is on a topic related to religion, I can sympathize with their worry that a non-religious person wouldn't "get" what they do as well as someone who is part of their world. It's not a matter, I think, of expecting some sort of positive bias (though I'm sure many of them do expect that), but rather an expectation that someone from within their subculture will understand them better than someone from outside, and will therefore more accurately represent them.

I can also sort of understand why people would be surprised. The fact is, I myself know or have met perhaps only four other Orthodox women who are professional newspaper or magazine writers for non-Orthodox Jewish or general interest publications. I'm including in that everyone I've ever known or encountered from college, journalism school, the Upper West Side, and all my activities as a journalist in New York and Jerusalem (which does not mean, of course, that there aren't others out there). The other Orthodox women I know who are good writers are in PR or some other form of writing like fiction, or they work as teachers or copy editors, or they write for publications like Jewish Action [for the, on average, two or maybe three articles per issue written by a woman- yes, I count every time] or the Jewish Press. I also used to know an Orthodox woman who is no longer a reporter; she moved to Hollywood and is a television sitcom writer (now that's unusual!).

What I cannot understand is why, if the religious Israelis are surprised, why are the secular Israelis not surprised?

Things that make you go "hm."

My friend Yael, who has been here for 4 years longer than I have, had some interesting insights about it, but I'd like to hear from other Israelis about your take on this.

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