After 22 years of posting reporters to Israel, the prestigious Boston Globe this week became the latest American media outlet to announce that it is closing its Jerusalem-based Middle East Bureau.
Bureau chief Anne Barnard said it was a shame that her paper had shut its office here at a time when vital information is needed to inform the critical debate over American policy on Israel and other countries in the region.
The move, to take effect in two months, is part of a larger budget cut at the Globe, which also forced it this week to eliminate its two other foreign bureaus: one in Latin America and the other in Europe.
"We knew that foreign news coverage was under threat in the industry, but we did not expect the Globe's entire foreign desk would be cut," said Barnard, who came here with her husband and co-bureau chief Thanassis Cambanis in July 2005. The couple had previously spent three years working for the Globe in Iraq.
Their paper is not the only one forced by economics to refocus its resources on local news after years promoting foreign coverage. At the end of December The Philadelphia Inquirer decided it would similarly eliminate the last of its foreign bureaus, the Jerusalem office, which is closing in a few weeks, having been staffed since 1983.
By the end of 2007 The Baltimore Sun is also likely to close its remaining three foreign bureaus, including its Jerusalem office. This would leave only six American newspapers that would maintain their own independent offices in Jerusalem according to the membership list of the Foreign Press Association. They are: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.
But this doesn't mean that there is a drop in the number of Israel-based reporters that represent the wider international world or other news gathering media such as wires services, radio, television and Internet sites.
"We have more journalists in Israel today then we have had in the past," said Daniel Seaman, who directs the Government Press Office. That includes the Qatar based Al-Jazeera television station that recently opened an office here.
Foreign Press Association executive secretary Glenys Sugarman said that its membership list had grown from 230 at the start of the second intifada in October 2000 to 480 in 2006.
But she noted that these are individual members, not organizations, and that not all members of the media who work here are registered with them.
But soon that membership list will not include Middle East correspondent Ned Warwick of the Inquirer, who is among the latest victims of the American newspaper industry's growing focus on local news rather than the more expensive global stories.
Warwick, who arrived here in September, told The Jerusalem Post that he was not exactly surprised to find himself so quickly packing his bags to return to home to work in the paper in Philadelphia.
It was clear to him where the paper was going, Warwick said, after his publisher Brian Tierney told The Washington Post in November: "We don't need a Jerusalem bureau. What we need are more people in the South Jersey bureau."
Barnard told The Jerusalem Post that she and Cambanis had no such sense their office was about to shut down within two months, even though they knew the paper was struggling financially.
They heard the news from the editor-in-chief Martin Baron on Tuesday night, Barnard said, "about 10 minutes before it was announced to the Globe newsroom and the public."
In light of the ongoing war in Iraq and the potential of a war with Iran, she had imagined that the Globe would hold on to its Middle East bureau located in Israel, Barnard said.
"It is a time when we should be learning more about Iran and not less," said Barnard, who recently traveled twice to that country and who had been looking forward to returning there.
With the growing number of crises in the Middle East, the paper has a critical role to play in informing the public so they can act to effect policy, said Barnard.
Part of her inspiration for becoming a journalist, she said, was to learn about other societies.
"I believe that when societies have more information about each other, they can make better decisions," said Barnard.
A trip she made to the Soviet Union as a teenager inspired her to learn Russian and to return there to work as a journalist for an English language paper called the Moscow Times.
"I felt a similar sense of mission about the Middle East," said Barnard.
"It's worse for the Globe than it is for my husband and me," said Barnard, as the paper has offered both of them jobs in Boston.
The cuts, she said, not only harm the paper's ability to inform its readers but also would make it less attractive to talented journalists who are looking to work for papers that would send them abroad. Readers, she said, would also view it "as a blow to the prestige of Boston, which is one of the most educated and cosmopolitan cities in America."
But in a memo Baron wrote to the Boston Globe staff he said that he had no choice but to close the bureaus when taking into account the larger good of the paper.
"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," said Baron.
The Globe's executive vice president Al Larkin told the Post that the paper was changing but not eliminating the way in which it handled foreign coverage. While the cost of the bureau is high, there is still a budget to send reporters and photographers abroad to augment the material available on the wire services in a manner that would be informative and beneficial to the readers, he said.
"We are hoping that in the end, the readers will continue to see us as a quality source for foreign news," Larkin said.
Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow was less optimistic. He told the Post that it was clear to him that their readers would be better served if the paper could afford to staff foreign bureaus.
In a universe of unlimited resources the papers should have bureaus all across the country and the world, Marimow said.
He said that the paper's reporter in Jerusalem has done outstanding work and that his story on corruption within Israeli politics had helped him understand the depth of the problem in a way that other stories had not.
"That is the value of having your own correspondent," said Marimow, whose paper has had foreign bureaus since the 1970s, including offices in Nairobi, Bangkok, New Delhi, Moscow and London. It also won a Pulitzer Prize for its foreign coverage.
In spite of this history, he said, the central mission of the paper right now is to be an indispensable source of news for the city of Philadelphia and its suburbs.
With limited resources local news has to be the paper's priority, he added.
This means "there will be fewer sources of original stories from abroad and that is unfortunate." But Marimow said, "An editor now has to balance economic pragmatism with idealism."
Warwick, who as the former foreign editor had been involved in closing three of the paper's foreign bureaus in the last five years, said that kind of bottom-line thinking "is tremendously painful." He added, "If we haven't learned by now, Americans need to know as much as they can about the world. I do not think we have the luxury of being oblivious."
But veteran correspondent Jay Bushinsky, who works for CBS Radio, said that "ironically there is more media coverage now" that can inform the reader, but it is the medium by which they are receiving that information which is changing from print to Internet.
The disappearance of both the Globe and the Inquirer, he said, are part of the constantly shifting media scene. When he first came here 42 years ago, he said, there were only two American newspaper bureaus covering this story: The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor.
But Calev Ben-David, who directs the Jerusalem office of the Israel Project, which works to provide foreign journalists with news about Israel, said the danger is not that the American public will learn less about Israel and the Middle East in newspaper print, but rather that it will be exposed to fewer diverse opinions from tried and true sources.
"You are going to have an exaggerated influence of a small number of media sources and that is never good," said Ben-David, who is a former managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.
"More and more you will be dependent on the wire services and you will have a smaller group of people" heading out to do their own first-hand unique reporting, said Ben-David.
On the flip side, he said, it was possible that more people would then look to alternative sources such as blogs or other creative possibilities on the Internet, which would then open readers up to a wider selection of ideas beyond the mainstream media. In the long term, he said, that could be positive.
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