By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Globe to close foreign bureaus

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.

Marty

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!

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18 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Dan,You say it no longer makes sense for regional papers like the Globe to cover international news in any sort of comprehensive way – not with the New York Times and the BBC just a click away. I just went to NYTimes.com and entered “Cape Verde” into the search engine. Ninety percent of the results were travel pieces or music reviews that dropped the name of the island nation. I gave up looking for a substantive feature story based out of the country after 40 hits that went back to 2004. On BBC.com, the results are primarily limited to country profiles. I don’t believe for a moment it’s because nothing’s happening over there. You are right that keeping bureaus open in the same spots that the Times and the BBC are covering (Jerusalem, London, Baghdad) makes no sense, but why can’t the Globe capitalize on the fact that there are international stories that would be of interest to readers in New England that those other outlets are ignoring? Maybe that wouldn’t necessarily mean opening a permanent bureau in Praia (or Port-Au-Prince, Dublin, Sao Paulo, etc.), but the special reports link you provided illustrates perfectly how the Globe can do things the Times and the BBC can’t or won’t. Is there really no way for the “Globe” to keep justifying its very name?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    In a word: yes. In the new world of all local, all the time, newspapers like the Globe should be looking for stories with a local angle. For instance, Kevin Cullen covered the conflict in Northern Ireland for years. Boston has large Haitian and Cape Verdean communities, and I hope the Globe will find the financial wherewithal to do some foreign reporting that serves those communities. But the paper’s going to have to do it without permanent bureaus.

  3. Peter Porcupine

    Does this validate Jack Welch’s vision? Outsource foreign correspondent reporting, and concentrate on local?IMHO, we will see more and more ‘hired guns’ doing remote reporting, not just on the editorial pages.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    PP: It would if Welch weren’t the 56,378th person to make that observation.

  5. Anonymous

    Worrying about whether a couple of countries are covered in the newspaper when it grapples with far bigger financial issues is like worrying if the silverware had been saved as the Titanic was going down. Come on, exactly how many subscribers are there in Boston’s Haitian community? In a different world, perhaps a newspaper like the Globe could worry about every ethnic community’s place of origin, but sorry, your argument makes no sense in this world.

  6. Anonymous

    Bad news for paid staffers based overseas, good news for freelancer reporters like me? If only Boston had a larger Australian community. Sorry. Not to be self-referential.There are still ways for newspapers to cover the world with new, independent journalism without having staffed bureaux; it will, however, require a sea change in how newspapers buy and display their foreign reporting. I remember a few years back a scuffle at the Globe about the ongoing rights to freelance work, particularly as relates to Lexis-Nexus.- Rachel

  7. Anonymous

    Thannasis Cambanis and Anne Bernard had a very nice article about their romance (they met in Iraq) and marriage (in Greece)in the Sunday Globe Magazine last year. A human interest story like that is another thing you miss due to all these cutbacks.

  8. Anonymous

    Who knew they had a bureau in Bogata Columbia!Why would they need a bureau there?Now that NYTimes is getting tight with the pennies….they’ll be uncovering lots of waste…that othewise went unnoticed.

  9. o-fish-l

    It comes down to good ol’ William of Ockham and his trusty Ockham’s Razor theory. Entities should not be multiplied needlessly.You pick the foreign country or region, identify the liberal and conservative angle to the story of the moment, and invariably the NY Times will come down on the liberal side of things. Why do we need four staffers at the Globe to do the same thing?Although the affected Globe employees will apparently be retained, how fortunate they and their colleagues are to experience career turbulence at a time when unemployment is virtually non-existent and our nation is in its 41st month of uninterupted job growth. Congrats to the Globe for trimming the fat!

  10. mike_b1

    Dan, what’s your sense on how much it costs to have a reporter based abroad vs. in Boston? It’s hard for me to believe it costs 3x, as Baron indirectly claims.

  11. Brian Maloney

    I simply don’t expect a local paper to cover Cape Verde, but the Financial Times does. And the Globe’s carriers now drop it on your doorstep in most local zips.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I have no particular insight into the cost of running a foreign bureau. But it just seems that when you figure in the cost of renting space for the bureau; living expenses for the reporters; and wages for staff (administrative, translators, “fixers”) — then it’s easy to see how four bureau-based foreign correspondents might equal 12 based locally.

  13. mike_b1

    If they are doing all that, then the problem isn’t the bureau, it’s the model. We have several bureaus: one-man shops where the individual works out of their home. We issue a GSM phone, a PC, and they hire translators as needed. The fully-burdened cost is less than 15% more than it costs us to have someone sitting in the home office.

  14. Stella

    Aah, the incredible shrinking Globe. New Bedford and Worcester now take on a certain alien cast.

  15. Anonymous

    I’m crushed by this. My own paper “let me” go to Iraq for a short stint. I’ve been trying to get back ever since. And now? Well, now we’ve determined someone else can do the job. I am not ashamed to say my time there was the highlight of a 30-year-career. I would give up everything i’ve ever had, or will have, to go back. But it won’t happen because our industrial is becoming so parochial. Fools. Don’t you understand that Americans in Iraq … or Afghanistan … or Bosnia … or Haiti IS a local story? Where do you think those people dying are from, anyway?And one more thing: You should understand that culpability for Iraq and other international travesties lies partly with our industry’s leaders. We have chosen to subjugate it, to bottom-line it, to render it unworthy of our attention.Send us there. We’ll go, and you know we will. Give us a living wage, the resources to do what we must and let us BE worthy of the title Fourth Estate. Listen, dying isn’t what we want to do, but we understand it is a risk we are willing to take to do a job that MUST be done.

  16. Anonymous

    Anon 12:35 said:…”Fools. Don’t you understand that Americans in Iraq … or Afghanistan … or Bosnia … or Haiti IS a local story? Where do you think those people dying are from, anyway?”….——-You passionately pine to tell the story of “those people dying” overseas. I think we get plenty of that from the NYT, C-BS, ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC et al. No need for four additional high-priced Kool-Aid drinkers on Morrissey Boulevard to pile on. With the public trusting used car salesmen more than the media, journalists have sealed their own fate.

  17. Anonymous

    >>I am not ashamed to say my time there was the highlight of a 30-year-career. I would give up everything i’ve ever had, or will have, to go back. But it won’t happen because our industrial is becoming so parochial.<<It may have been the “highlight of YOUR career….but did it matter so much to the readers?The point is, that readers don’t look to The Globe for authoritative reporting overseas (anymore).>>Fools. Don’t you understand that Americans in Iraq … or Afghanistan … or Bosnia … or Haiti IS a local story? Where do you think those people dying are from, anyway?<<Can you get off your high horse for a minute to realize the shrinking impact of papers?You seem to egotistically think “if my newspaper doesn’t cover it, then it won’t get covered.” The Globe (or whatever paper you work for) isn’t the be all, end all, of news. It’s just a part of the equation.

  18. MeTheSheeple

    Ack.I’ve been meaning to blog about how good the Globe’s coverage of China has been these past few months, and now I find out there wasn’t even a bureau there for them to close.Here’s to hoping maybe the AP goes for more enterprise foreign stuff, if nothing else.

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