Why you should care about foreign news

The World

WARSAW, Poland — I am still on assignment in eastern Europe, and like a morbid bookend following Anthony Shadid's death last week, on Wednesday I learned that Marie Colvin had been killed in Syria.

I did not know her well enough to give the kind of tributes so many who did are putting up everywhere. But I want to take the occasion of her death and Anthony's to tell GlobalPost readers why their deaths should be marked.

They are irreplaceable because of their skill, experience and humanity. But the terrible truth is they are not likely to be replaced,  because the people who manage the news business do not begin to match their courage. Foreign desks have been slashed across the industry. GlobalPost is a standout exception to the trend of foreign news cut backs, but we are unique.

The expense of providing ground-truth reporting is prohibitive. We all know that. It can put the financial health of a newspaper or television network at risk — and not just for-profit enterprises, but non-profit enterprises as well. Faced with the choice, newsroom managers will always sacrifice original foreign reporting — even if they think it is important. Why not? goes management thinking. You can get Shadid on the phone for a two-way and pretend you are covering foreign news.

Today at Poynter's website — an industry bulletin board — there is an article speculating whether my colleagues will be replaced. It includes this quote by another old colleague, Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“[I]t’s not correct to place all the blame on the industry’s current financial spiral,” Dick Polman wrote in 2009. “Newspaper executives have slashed the ranks of foreign correspondents not just because of the expense, but because they also recognize that readers generally care more about the crossword puzzle than about whether they’re getting a nuanced staff-written story from a foreign hot spot.”

And this is my point: we live in a time when anything you read on the web counts as "information." But in this "information"-rich age, we are more ignorant than ever. Anthony and Marie risked everything to beat this ignorance back. I honor them for staying the course, I abhor managers who slash foreign coverage and piggy-backed on my colleagues' willingness to be peshmerga — Kurdish for "those who face death" — to tell the comfortable citizens of the West what was happening under their noses, rather than investing their own resources into swelling the ranks of witnesses.

I hope that those of you who find your way to this blog post will take every opportunity to tell your friends who don't care about foreign news why they should. That would honor the work of Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin more than any florid phrase I might be able to turn. 

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