desks abroad

31 July 2008

(San Francisco Call, 28 July 1908)

Nicolas Kristof points out that only four American newspapers still have foreign desks; Matthew Yglesias doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing:

I think a better way to think about the web’s impact would be something like this. How many foreign desks was a typical American actually able to read back in 1978? For most people, I think, the answer was one or two. Today only four American papers maintain a foreign desk but it’s easy as pie to read any or all of them. And of course you can also read foreign coverage in British papers or read The Times of India‘s coverage of explosions on Bangalore.

I think the foreign coverage of professional journalists can only be very partially replaced by citizen journalism. But it’s really easy to see how it can be replaced by other professional journalists. As newspapers, television networks, and radio networks all increasing move in a digital direction it seems to me that we can easily imagine a world in which there are 15 or so different global brands offering substantive general-interest global news coverage in the English language and everyone with a broadband connection is able to access all fifteen of them.

In comments, Mckingford takes issue with that argument (click through for the whole comment, which includes a Canada-Sudan-US story as an example):

I think this misstates the problem, because it assumes that they all report on the same thing. It may well used to be the case that there were a dozen papers (as opposed to the current 4) with a China bureau. This certainly increased the odds that at any given time, some papers were writing stories out of Beijing, others out of Shanghai, with others in some remote region reporting on, say, a mine disaster. After all, it isn’t as if there is only *1* story at any given time that may be of interest to domestic readers. With consolidation, the odds are increasingly likely that the foreign bureaux of the respective papers are chasing the same story.

And it is a similar mistake to assume that increased access to foreign papers replaces the function of these lost foreign bureaux. A story has different implications for local readers of the “Times of India” than it does for an American (which isn’t to say that the perspective of the “Times of India” may not be important or interesting).

I’m pretty much with Mckingford on this one. More reporters for more papers would mean more possibilities for more stories or greater depth for certain stories. In practice, it’s true that a lot of papers end up replicating each others’ bigger stories, but even then they often get some different details, have different sources, or (efforts at objectivity notwithstanding) see the story from different angles. (Those differences also often provide material for news aggregators, like bloggers.)

On the domestic audience side, different parts of the country have different relationships with the rest of the world, so the lack of foreign bureaus means that potential stories not deemed relevant to the audiences of the four major papers simply will not be covered for some local audiences. I suspect papers will continue to occasionally send out reporters on assignment get these types of stories – that Call report advertised above was probably produced that way, and smaller current papers have sent embedded or non-embedded reporters to Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance – but that’s not the same thing as having people who know a region more intimately because they live there and it’s their “beat.”

Of course, if people aren’t reading those smaller papers in large enough numbers to justify the expense of the foreign desks, there’s not much we can do but express regret at what’s being lost. But I do think that something really is being lost.

Minor side note: I remember as a kid reading stories from the wire services, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times in the San Francisco Chronicle. I assume that almost all of the Chronicle‘s print world coverage is provided this way now, although there is apparently still something called the “Chronicle Foreign Service.”


Tribune Thursday: no pictures

31 July 2008

I’m disappointed that there’s no front page photo today.

Top stories:

  1. Taft is in Hot Springs taking a rest from the campaign. So far he has played a round of golf, answered some correspondence, and denied a false rumor “to the effect that he had said, at some time and place unidentified, that ‘a dollar a day is enough for a workingman.'”
  2. Democratic National Committee Chairman Norman Mack is headed to Wall St. to ask Democrats to support the campaign, “using the argument that all good Democrats ought to get together now that Hearst is running a third ticket.” I think that’s a reference to this party, which was founded by Hearst a couple of years earlier, and which nominated two other people for the presidency in 1908. Presumably many in the party had, like Hearst himself, formerly supported – or run as – Democrats.
  3. A New Jersey Central train collided with a horse and carriage, leaving one dead and two seriously injured.
  4. A woman was killed and seven others, including her infant son, were seriously injured when they jumped from a streetcar on the Graham Avenue line in Brooklyn. Sadly, they may have been safer had they stayed on the car:

    A blow-out in the motor box fuse sent up a sheet of flame, and the passengers, most of them Italians, jumped from the fast moving car in fright. A number of passengers who kept their seats were uninjured, and the car was scarcely damaged.

  5. Some details of a deal between E. H. Harriman and the Gould railroads have been leaked.
  6. In what looks like a complicated financial story, some New York banks look ready to sell control of the Provident Savings Life Assurance Society to the Inter-Southern Life Insurance Company of Kentucky. Colorado officials and policy holders are somehow involved.

beaten tracks

29 July 2008

Talk of how we’ve entered a new “gilded age” tends to center on questions of inequality, but it has also led a number of people to draw analogies (sometimes well, sometimes poorly) between the old Gilded Age and our time. I remember during the internet boom of the late 90s hearing people say that the internet – or the information superhighway, as they said back then – was a lot like the 19th century railroad: annihilation of time and space, generation of great fortunes, boom and bust, and so on. But lately it’s been looking like the 19th century railroad might be more like the 21st century railroad.

There’s political influence and looming battles over regulation:

Two western railroad companies are donating an unusually high amount — more than $1 million — to the Denver National Convention (DNC) host committee — at the same time that railroad regulation proponents say they’re close, for the first time in decades, to winning additional oversight of the rail industry.

The companies offering up their political support include Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s (BNSF). Nebraska-based UP disclosed its $1 million donation to Democratic convention organizers; company officials have said that an additional donation has been made to the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, though they haven’t revealed that amount.

And there are likely to be fights over rates ahead:

Meanwhile, the railroad industry’s long-standing antitrust exemption has attracted the attention of lawmakers. They seek to eliminate the exemption and closely examine the rates railroads charge to haul freight, which the industry says would cripple its expansion at a critical time.

The railroads’ rate structure has also drawn the ire of some of their customers: Nearly 30 antitrust lawsuits have been filed against major railroads in recent months, including one by agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland last month, alleging collusion and price-fixing.

For some lawmakers and advocacy groups, today’s rail industry recalls that of the late 1800s, when the only ceiling on rates was the limit of a rail baron’s avarice. The railroads say today’s rates are reasonable and reflect something the industry has not had in decades: pricing power.

Meanwhile, what’s the Gilded Age internet? The telephone. Seriously, that’s a very well-drawn analogy, from the story of the replacement of “the people’s telephone” (or “telephone 2.0”) with “telephone 1.0”, to the sobering concluding speculation. I couldn’t help but think of net neutrality while reading it.

so that’s what happened to the mime from French in Action

29 July 2008

I recommend watching this before you know what it’s about.

(I can’t remember where I saw this video, but it was a while ago. This made me think of it again.)


29 July 2008

Capitalizing on Russia’s growing economy, Moscow is embracing cafe culture (weather permitting):

When it comes to enjoying the outdoors, Russians have always been adept at taking what they can get: sunbathing standing up beside frozen rivers or growing a year’s worth of vegetables at their country houses during the short, bright summers.

But outdoor cafes have taken on a special importance in Moscow, where over the last decade people have slowly colonized street spaces that once offered little in the way of coziness.

Cafes have filled in the architectural nooks and crannies away from the city’s wide avenues — behind apartment houses, in park buildings. And, like New Yorkers willing to squeeze into tiny cafe tables next to dry cleaners or even garbage cans, some Moscow diners happily sit outdoors next to 10-lane boulevards.

Every spring, restaurants and cafes hammer together wooden terraces that they call, in honor of their short window of operation, summer cafes.

Prices are not cheap; it is common to pay the equivalent of $4 to $8 for cappuccino. Yet popular chains like Shokoladnitsa, whose name is Russian for chocolate girl, and Kofe Haus offer an accessible treat to the growing class of urban professionals, like architects, accountants and designers, who cannot afford the luxury goods marketed to the richest Russians but have made a little extra money from the country’s oil-driven consumer boom.

And for those who have not made a little extra money? Well:

Outdoor cafes underline the growing gap between rich and poor. Nastya Fomina, who was smoking with four teenage friends at Prime Star, a deli-like cafe near the Kremlin, said it disturbed her when passers-by asked for money.

I wonder if she’s read the relevant Baudelaire (link should go to pages 52-3).

the global war on polymer

28 July 2008

I thought banning paper bags was still just a California thing. Los Angeles has just decided to do it and, not surprisingly, some parts of the Bay Area have already done it.* But they’re not alone:

In June, China banned shops from giving out free plastic bags throughout the country, and banned the production, sale and use of any plastic bags less than one-thousandth of an inch thick. Bhutan banned the bags on the grounds that they interfered with national happiness. Ireland has imposed a hefty 34 cent fee for each bag used. Both Uganda and Zanzibar have banned them, as have 30 villages in Alaska. Scores of countries have imposed or are considering similar measures.

*This reminds me of when I was a kid and Berkeley banned styrofoam containers. That might have seemed like an odd decision at first, but in retrospect it turns out to have been a good one. Of course styrofoam is still around (not in Berkeley), but in a less environmentally damaging way.

What I noticed most about the ban at the time – I was quite young – was that fast-food hamburgers, previously kind of soggy in condensation catching containers, now had to be wrapped in paper or put in thin cardboard boxes. They tasted better that way.