Friday, March 2nd, 2007
Over the past several weeks, PBS Frontline has had a tremendous four-part series called “News Wars” about the current state of journalism in the United States. If you have no idea when Frontline airs, haven’t watched PBS since the days of Sesame Street, or don’t have a Tivo trying to make you smarter, do yourself a favor and watch the series online. And even if you don’t watch, visit their slick web site - they’re only getting 80,000 visitors a day (as opposed to the Daily Kos at half a million).
PBS among many others has been lamenting the decline in foreign correspondents at national and local newspapers. While on a fellowship at Harvard last fall, Christian Science Monitor journalist Jill Carroll studied the state of foreign journalism. She found that the number of foreign newspaper correspondents had decreased by more than a quarter between 2002 and 2006. Many of the familiar reasons are to blame such as the proliferation of blogs or the uptick in foreign news sources like Al Jazeera that can be called upon. But it also reflects ruthless, short-sighted cost cutting. As Frontline noted, whether your consider bloggers journalists or not 80% of the blogs aren’t producing original research. We depend as much on the newspapers as anyone.
So which cities are best served by their newspaper’s foreign desks? Using the data in Carroll’s working paper (no longer online, I’m afraid), I calculated the number of foreign correspondents per million residents of the metro areas served by the newspaper or newspapers. Although I did include the Washington Post and NY Times, this measure does not count newspapers such as USA Today or Wall Street Journal which have a national or international audience.
Big cities do well, but big cities do not necessarily devote more resources per capita to foreign desks. Although Philadelphia has the fourth most populous metro area, the Philadelphia Enquirer halved the number of foreign correspondents from 4 to 2 between 2000 and 2006. Dallas reduced its staff from 7 to 3 and Houston eliminated all 3 of its foreign correspondents over the same period. Freelance reporting is not picking up the slack. According to anecdotal accounts, freelance budgets for foreign news have been slashed at mid-sized papers across the country.
More surprising is that intellectual San Francisco lags far behind glitzy L.A. and that gritty Baltimore employs as many foreign correspondents per capita as Miami. One note is that the mid-sized market of Tampa/St. Petersburg is well served by the St. Petersburg Times. It not only boasts the largest circulation in Florida, it is also the only newspaper that has not cut its foreign staff in the last six years. One reason may be that it is run by a non-profit foundation and not by a company listed on the NYSE.