When Literature Meets the Press: Trends in the Literary Supplements of Daily Newspapers in Israel, from the 1950s to the 1990s

Article excerpt

Netanya Academic College and The Ben-Gurion University of the Negev This paper examines trends and changes in the Israeli literary supplements, investigates the tense relationship between literature and the printed media, and outlines the social and cultural processes that literary supplements reflect and echo. The research analyzed a sample of 540 literary supplements published in five main newspapers in Israel over a period of fifty years, since the establishment of the state in 1948. In addition, twelve interviews were conducted with present and former editors of the literary supplements.

Two main trends--one relates to "form" while the other to "matter"--can be identified in the literary supplements within the fifty years of Israel's statehood. The first trend is shrinkage in their size; the second trend can generally be referred to as "popularization." This has led to the inclusion of pulp literature in literary supplements. As a consequence, literary supplements are in transition from progressive "mini literary periodicals" that publish new works of young writers to a mid-stream conservative supplement that does not take risks.

Seasoned book-lovers in Israel often complain about the growing "degradation" of the literary supplements in the daily newspapers. Present and former editors of the supplements voice similar complaints in interviews. This article will attempt to propose a preliminary answer to the oft-asked question, "What happened to the literary supplements?" Has their status indeed been degraded? Has literature dropped out of the newspapers? What kinds of relations have developed between newspapers and literature in the last decade of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first and why?

In order to answer these questions I have analyzed a sample of 540 literary supplements, published in five main newspapers in Israel over a period of fifty years, since the establishment of the State in 1948. In addition, I conducted twelve interviews with present and former editors of literary supplements. The analysis identifies three trends in the literary supplements within the fifty years of Israel's statehood. This paper will outline these trends and point out the reasons for the changes that have occurred, both within the literary system and outside it.

The first trend relates to "form" and is obvious to anyone who sees how the weekend newspapers have kept growing in size since the establishment of Israel while the literary supplements have shrunk, especially in relation to the overall size of the newspaper.

The second trend can generally be referred to as "popularization." In the past, only highbrow material, that is, quality literature, literary criticism, and serious topics, such as Israeli and Jewish identity, were dealt with in literary supplements. Today, pulp literature has come to be included in the literary supplements while serious literature and the writers who produce it turn up in the entertainment supplements. A similar phenomenon can be seen in the literary reviews. Meanwhile, alternatives to the literary supplements have appeared in the newspapers. As a consequence, today's editors of literary supplements tend to publish few original works by Israeli writers, and even fewer, if any, by young new writers. This phenomenon has produced a striking side effect: the development of alternatives outside of the newspapers and their literary venues, namely, literary periodicals and literature sites on the internet.

Despite these differences between literary supplements of the 1950s and 1960s and those of the 1980s and 1990s, there are also similarities between them, like the traditional approach to holidays and the literary supplement's independent status in the newspaper.

1. THE SHRINKING OF THE LITERARY SUPPLEMENTS

When one compares the number of pages in the literary supplements of the fifties and sixties to the number of pages in those of the nineties, it becomes apparent that the supplements grew only slightly over the years while the newspapers grew considerably larger. …