The Boston Globe announced some sad news today: The paper is closing its foreign bureaus. Media Nation received word a little while ago, but Romenesko has already posted both this Globe item and a memo to the staff by editor Marty Baron, the text of which appears below:
To the staff:
As you know, this is a period of hard choices for us. Today I am advising you of one of them: We will no longer maintain a network of foreign bureaus.
We currently have four superb, supremely dedicated colleagues in three bureaus overseas. They will be given the opportunity to return here for other positions, and the bureaus will be closed.
Continuing to bear the expense of our foreign bureaus would have required us to reduce staffing by a dozen or so positions beyond those already announced. We concluded that it would be unwise to meet the newsroom’s financial targets by making additional staff reductions.
We will continue to send reporters and photographers abroad on special projects and selected major events. Our budget for this year sets aside money for that purpose.
Foreign coverage has been a point of special pride in our newsroom, ever since the Globe established its first overseas bureau in the mid-1970s. Since then, the Globe has asked its foreign correspondents to provide stories of distinction, and they have always delivered. Often, our colleagues have put their own lives at risk in the important, noble task of bringing the world closer to our readers. They are fiercely committed to their work, and they have been brave beyond measure.
Many other regional newspapers, some larger than ours, have taken similar steps in recent years. Our decision came only after a careful review by the publisher of various options that would allow us to stay within budget. All along, a guiding principle was to secure the resources required for local coverage and for journalism that has the most direct impact on our readers.
We remain positioned for another year of outstanding journalism, with robust local coverage, ambitious plans for the presidential campaign, and continued strength in sports, arts, business, features, Washington coverage, and many other areas. You can also expect even more aggressive initiatives online.
In coming weeks, I will be talking with you more about all of this.
Affected are Thannasis Cambanis and Anne Bernard, who cover the Middle East from the Jerusalem bureau; Indira Lakshmanan, based in Bogotá, Colombia; and Colin Nickerson, based in Berlin.
That this was inevitable makes it no less depressing. As many media observers, including me, have been writing for some time, it no longer makes sense for regional papers like the Globe to cover international news in any sort of comprehensive way — not when the New York Times, the BBC et al. are just a click away.
The Globe’s foreign coverage has been distinguished. Retired editor Matt Storin once told me that his philosophy was for the Globe to be like the New Yorker — to cover the news, but also to seek out the offbeat stories that the Times and the Washington Post weren’t covering. In recent years you could see that in John Donnelly’s outstanding reportage from Africa (Donnelly moved to back to Washington last year). And only yesterday, the Globe fronted a fine Lakshmanan piece on Panama City’s old quarter.
The Globe’s Elizabeth Neuffer — best known for her work in the former Yugoslavia — was one of the first reporters to die covering the war in Iraq. In 2002, Baron flew to Israel after Anthony Shadid — then with the Globe, now with the Post — was shot in Ramallah.
Not too many years ago, folks at regional papers like the Globe wanted to compete with the national media by having their own people in Washington, across the country and overseas. Unfortunately, the new media landscape puts a premium on local, local, local.
But that doesn’t mean something hasn’t been lost. Take a look at these special reports on the Globe’s Web site. Baron says the Globe’s foreign coverage won’t disappear entirely. But it’s not going to be the same. Not even close.
Update: Michael Gee disagrees with my assessment, and backs it up with some sharp observations about his years at the Herald. Unfortunately, he lumps Media Nation in with … Jack Welch!