Alex S. Jones, Director, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy
Panelists: Martin Baron, Editor, The Boston Globe
Steve Coll, Managing Editor, The Washington Post
J. Gerardo Lopez, Editor, La Opinión
ALEX S. JONES, Director, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy: I think that the issue that the panel is going to discuss with you today may be best grasped in a story that Marty Baron has told about what happened to Fidel Castro during one of his marathon speeches relatively recently. You may remember this: He fainted and had to be basically led from the lectern, and put in a chair. This is something that he recovered from relatively quickly, so much so that he resumed his place at the lectern and finished the speech at some length.
This story was not mentioned in The New York Times at all, according to Marty, at least the edition that he saw. But in The Miami Herald it was banner, front-page news; two front-page stories, pictures, in-cluding a sort of sequence of Castro going down, and two full pages inside.
Now, the point is not that The New York Times got it right or wrong, or that The Miami Herald got it right or wrong, but that The Miami Herald was reporting a piece of what might otherwise be considered foreign news that was of enormous importance to its audience. It was not a foreign news subject, as far as they were concerned. It was news. It was important news.
The issue before us today, as much as anything else, is about what we, as Americans, consider news to be, because, as I think most news organizations have recognized, local news–news that is interpreted as local means, to most people, news that matters to their lives, news that has some direct impact on them.
On 9/11, as we all know, the issue of what was foreign became local for virtually every American, no matter how white bread, how disinterested they were previously in international news. As Director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard this past year, I did a piece of research through one of the fellows that was at the Shorenstein Center to try to plumb how American news media had covered the question of terrorism–not after 9/11, but the issue of terrorism between the first time the World Trade Center was bombed and Septem-ber 11 of last year. And what we found was that in that time the American media had done, not a great job, but a reasonable job in some cases, especially the major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post had done a reasonable job covering the issue of terrorism.
But they had not done any coverage whatsoever–in retrospect, this seems so strange– of what you might think of in the aftermath of 9/11 of as “why do they hate us?” Coverage of [the motives behind] terrorism, which we all recognized existed, which we all recognized to be a threat, which was [in] evidence already in New York and in countries around the world where embassies and other terrible bombings took place. We recognized [terrorism] as a serious problem, a problem to us as a nation, but even then, even in that context, we had simply ignored the question of a complex motivational issue about how we were viewed from abroad.
I think that what this suggests is a situation and a problem that we all understand very well. The problem, number one, of Americans in a kind of complacent self-absorption, who do not care about the way they’re viewed from the world at large and do not really care a great deal about the world at large; and, number two, the long-recognized problem of a diverse country, getting larger and larger and more and more diverse all the time, in which people who are prospective readers and viewers of news look at the world through a prism that is not necessarily international by their lives, but is certainly international in its complexity and diversity.
We’re going to try to plumb how local news organizations, of great importance to the communities they serve, are approaching how to deal with a diverse population, and also [how to deal with] an American public that needs to know things about the world but may be reluctant to find those things out.
STEVE COLL, Managing Editor, The Washington Post: With the short time I have, I thought I’d do three things: First, describe a little bit of the model from which we proceed in covering foreign news, even though it is unusual and perhaps doesn’t contain a lot of exportable lessons for other local newspapers. But maybe it has some, and anyway we can explain ourselves. Secondly, I thought I’d just try to describe a little bit of what we attempted to do after September 11, with the system that we have, and what problems we encountered, what failings I perceive, my colleagues perceive, and what we attempted to do. And then third, I come around to this question of audience and appetite for foreign news generally, as our experience sheds light on it, even though as I say our model is unusual.
The reason our model is unusual is precisely what seems obvious, what Alex describes, which is that we are a local newspaper, broadly circulated, broadly penetrated in a city, in a region that happens also to be the capital of national government and the capital of international engagement for the United States, full of institutions that are richly informed with specialists in international affairs, international economics, and related matters.
So for The Post in its modern era and in its era of aspiration to great newspaper status, it has always understood that authoritative coverage of the rest of the world was a local mission, as well as a mission with other aspects and ramifications. Fortunately, through the wisdom of our ownership and the bounty of our resources, we’ve been able to stay on that mission without change or any falling off of confidence, even during the 1990’s, when the audience and the culture were clearly moving in other directions.
It’s true that the traditional structure for foreign news coverage at The Post has been reinforced during the 1990’s by immigration, which Alex alluded to. It’s remarkable-I don’t know how many of you are Washingtonians and how many are from out of town — but you go to the suburbs around this region and you just drive through neighborhoods in Montgomery County or Fairfax County or Prince George’s County, for that matter, and just take a look at the faces out behind those lawnmowers. This region has been transformed by a wave of immigration, where in many of these counties now, wealthy suburban counties, the middle class and upper middle class are made up of new arrivals. In many cases one out of five, one out of six residents of our core suburban counties are foreign-born.
In Washington there’s a unique kaleidoscope that immigration represents. We have no dominant country of origin. We have no dominant region of origin. We have really a remarkable array of national origins in our immigrant population. If you look at a list of the top 10 or 15 countries of origin, you’re quickly globe-hopping from China to West Africa, to India and Pakistan and to Latin America, Mexico, El Salvador, and elsewhere.
As editors, we’ve been slow to understand this change. We’ve certainly been slow to cover it intelligently, but as it has seeped into our experience as a newspaper, we have certainly begun to think about it in reference to our foreign news coverage. It’s an interesting problem, because these clusters of intensely interested readers have peculiar characteristics, certainly in comparison to, say, the government specialists and the government consumers of international news. They’re deeply interested in their own regions; [they] have a somewhat provincial relationship with foreign news but an expert one, and that’s challenging in both regards.
To skip around to the subject of coverage of September 11, I would just mention two things. One, I’m sure obvious to other journalists in the room, is that this is as an international story. This has been unusually challenging because of its elusiveness, its structure, and because of the information policies of our government. If you just think about it as an international story, its most challenging characteristic is its dispersal. There are 60-plus countries that al-Qaeda operates in now, and to the extent that there is a campaign against that loosely defined organization, it’s largely carried out in secret through liaison relationships involving intelligence agencies, interior ministries, and in many cases societies that have no tradition of free information or free press.
So there is an invisible structure to this campaign that is unusually challenging to journalists and journalism. Afghanistan was the easy piece. It was a conventional war, and even though the information policies associated with it were frustrating, at least it occurred in a visible landscape and a journalist could drive to the nearest valley and watch the puffs of smoke over the horizon and report what he or she saw. But really the truth of this complex undertaking doesn’t lie in Afghanistan, certainly not any more. It’s in the detention centers and interior ministries of societies where, frankly, American journalists haven’t reported very rigorously for much of the last 20 or 30 years. Which leads me to the second point I wanted to make about our post-September 11th coverage, by way of self-criticism.
As I’ve studied to some extent the American government’s [view of] the rise of political Islam and a Sunni Islamic revival over the last 20 years, and particularly after the end of the Cold War, you try to sort out what it was that the national security machinery in this country saw, failed to see, and understood about radical Sunni Islam during those years. One thing that strikes you is that the problem that’s often discussed about the government is equally true in our newsroom, which is that we were arrayed as a newsroom to cover the Cold War. We covered states. We covered the Soviet bloc. If the ball dropped and I needed Russian speakers en masse tomorrow, I’ve got five, six, seven talented, fluent Russian speakers. Urdu speakers, Arabic speakers–never mind Pashtu and Dari speakers–are a lot fewer and farther between.
About the appetite for foreign news: We have this great luxury of not having to sit around and agonize with our business colleagues about this issue, nor do we have to negotiate with our owner for support, so in those ways we are extraordinarily fortunate. But I notice this Pew survey, at least [according to] the headlines on materials I got, emphasizes that the appetite for foreign news in the country didn’t appear to have changed very much in the months after September 11, and it was still somewhat discouraging.
Oddly, we’ve had a very different experience with our own private feedback loops from readers. We do lots of work to stay in touch with readers’ attitudes. I have been stunned, and my colleagues have been stunned, to see the appetite for foreign news over the last six or nine months. But we assume that it’s a temporary spike. Maybe it has something to do with Washington being a place where the attacks occurred, and maybe it has something to do with the unique characteristics of our readership, but it is off the charts. So it really is the opposite story, maybe a regional anomaly from the one that your own polling described. I’ll be curious to see whether six or nine months from now that remains the case, or whether it changes. It was always pretty strong, but it’s really anomalous now.
J. GERARDO LOPEZ, Editor, La Opinión: I guess most of you, or all of you, know The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, but how many of you would know La Opinión? I guess it’s only a few of you, if at all. We sell about 130,000 copies a day. There is a high pass-along rate per copy sold. According to last year’s Gallup numbers, we are read by 679,000 people a day. That places us as the second-most-read newspaper in Los Angeles. Ninety-five percent of our papers are sold in the street, an anomaly in this country. Only five percent is home delivery. Our editorial personnel are totally bilingual. Our reporters go out and gather facts in English; they come back to the office and write copy in Spanish.
The majority of our readers are immigrants [who] have been living in the United States for an average of 14 years. About 15 percent of them are native-born U.S. citizens, 69 percent are Mexicans or of Mexican origin, 14 percent are Central Americans, and two percent from other parts of the world. This diversity presents another couple of challenges. Since our readers are mostly immigrants, in a practical way they live in a society that is not homogeneous to them in terms of language, culture, judicial and economic systems.
They all, though, are interested in news from Los Angeles, from California, from the United States, their country of origin, and the rest of the world, in that order. They prefer to read in Spanish even though 71 percent can read English at three proficiency levels–very good, good, and fair–according to our proprietary readership study done for La Opinión in June 2001. Thirty-five percent of them read newspapers in English.
In doing our work and in taking into account our readers, their background, their informational leads, we find ourselves changing gears often from the type of information offering that we have to provide. There are news events that need more perspective, more sidebar explanations to place things in context, more news analysis–more public service journalism.
I would say that our daily menu of general information has an offering of 65 to 70 percent local news, including state and national; 20 to 25 percent of news from Latin America; and 10 percent of news from the rest of the world. The percentages in the sports sections are very different. We’re very international in that sense; most of our readers prefer soccer. We have two people right now in Korea and in Japan following the World Cup.
When the Argentine situation became a crisis late last year, for instance, we changed gears by altering the percentages of information from that region of the hemisphere, to make a more comprehensive offering on what was happening in Argentina, to tell the human story: what the experts in Argentina and outside the country were saying about the causes of that particular crisis, what the U.S. government and other people in Washington were saying about the situation, how other Latin American nations were reacting to this particular crisis, and what were the views of the Argentineans living in Los Angeles, what were the interpretation of things, what did they need in particular in terms of help, information, or communication with loved ones back home.
We change gears often. We might have to eliminate some or all of our offerings of news from other parts of the world or reduce our local news to make room for that specific developing happening in Argentina, for instance. We do all of this to stay relevant and to respond to our readers’ interests. They want to know what is going on in the countries of origin. In this particular instance, even though a majority of our readers do not come from Argentina, our readers have friends or workers, extended family members, or simple acquaintances from that country, and that drives their interest.
September 11 made us change gears again. It made us concentrate on the smallest percentage of our daily coverage and increase it dramatically due to the general interest of our readers in this story. They made us look for information and sources that could help us tell our readers what was happening, to put things in perspective, to offer some analysis of the whole thing.
They made us look for the human interest story, how people have been affected personally by this tragedy, to look for the international reaction to the events, particularly in the Muslim world and in Israel. What was the official reaction in Washington? What was the reaction in Latin America, particularly in Argentina?
They had two terrorist bombings during the 90’s. Colum-bia, which was in the middle of a war, and Mexico, with people working in the Twin Towers, made us look at what was the reaction in Los Angeles, how the events were affecting people’s lives in the Latino community, what was the reaction of Muslims living in Los Angeles and in other parts of the state and the treatment that they were receiving everywhere they went.
I feel that the interest in international news — that is, news from outside the Americas — is still very high among our readers. Seventy percent of them expressed an interest in international news prior to September 11, according to our readership study done in June 2001. I feel that the interest in international news is still high. Our coverage on that front is modest; we do not have correspondents or news bureaus outside the Americas. We depend heavily on news wires and occasionally on stringers. We have stringers in Great Britain, in Geneva, Spain, Italy, and Israel.
The coverage from Latin America is more comprehensive than our coverage from the rest of the world. We have a correspondent based in Mexico City and a number of regular stringers in Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela. Thanks to our coverage, La Opinión’s readers knew what was going on in Argentina long before the economic and social crisis erupted in December of last year. I could say the same thing about our coverage from Colombia and the coup d’état that happened in that country. Our readers had comprehensive reports from those major news events in those countries.
Our coverage from El Salvador is also more frequent, given the fact that about eight to 10 percent of our readers have come from or have links to that particular country. Mexico in a lot of ways is a local story for us. We have daily coverage from our correspondent there, as well as weekly news analysis, commentary, and in-depth reports.
September 11 has also had a lot of impact on our local coverage. We have been paying a lot of attention to the war on terrorism and the impact that it has on the daily lives of our readers. The impact on the economy–thousands of Latinos in Los Angeles lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced because of the impact of the attacks on the entertainment, tourism, and service industries. The impact at the border — the long lines, the scrutiny, the difficulties crossing the border. People from Los Angeles travel back and forth to Mexico and travel on weekends to Tijuana. The delays at the border were affecting people in Los Angeles and the economy in Tijuana. People were staying away from that zone. The police harassment and racial profiling of immigrants, the INS raids at the airports were instilling fear in many Latinos. Anti-immigrant discourse in general is going on in many places. The changes that the Justice Department has been making on the issuing of visas in other matters related to immigrants, et cetera. The war itself and the Latinos that are participating in the operation in Afghanistan or are getting ready to take part in it.
MARTIN BARON, Editor, The Boston Globe: Before coming down here I was reading through the results of the polls that were done for the Pew Center, which were very interesting but also very dispiriting. I was disturbed, although I was not surprised, to see that interest in foreign news, at least nationally, maybe not in Washington, had not gone up very much.
But I was encouraged when I was listening to the earlier sessions, because we were told that this presented us all with a great opportunity: If we were to provide more space for foreign news, for international news, we would create more of an audience for it, and, therefore, we should go back and add more space. That was one of the lessons we should draw from that poll. And I was thinking to myself at the time that, had the polls shown that interest in foreign news had gone up significantly, we would then be able to also go back to our publishers and argue for more space for international news as well. This is exactly how I like to use market research.
I thought I’d just try to give you a little bit of insight into our coverage post-9/11, how we went about that, and then talk a little bit about our foreign coverage generally and perhaps how it relates to demographic changes in Boston–and how sometimes it doesn’t relate to that. The Globe, of course, has a long history of having correspondents overseas. We currently have eight people on our foreign staff, although only six bureaus overseas, if you consider Canada to be overseas. We have two foreign correspondents who are based in the United States, one in New York, one in Washington, who regularly travel overseas. The paper has long been interested in international coverage and to some extent its reputation has been built on some of that international coverage. So we went into 9/11, I think, with some real advantages over other newspapers of our size. We are not a paper as large as The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times or The New York Times. We don’t have a foreign staff nearly as big as theirs, but we do have a lot of experienced people on our staff. So immediately after 9/11, we were able to dispatch to the region a couple of correspondents who reported from there, on a number of occasions in some depth.
At one point we reached actually six people in the region, four people in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan. Of course, when I realized that we had six people there, I realized, oh, that was a mistake, we weren’t supposed to have that many people; one person got delayed in leaving. But we were up to six, and we would have been up to five.
I would like to contradict some of the statements that were made earlier that all of [American reporters’] information came from the Pentagon and that somehow we received that information and were not independently developing information on our own. In fact, we got very little information from the Pentagon due to what I would refer to as the information policies of our government. And, therefore, it was somewhat liberating. We had a lot of reporters in the field. Initially, of course, many of them were with the Northern Alliance, but eventually, fairly quickly, they were able to travel around the country as best they could, given safety considerations and logistics and things of that sort.
So I do think that we did develop a lot of information on our own. I should say that, for a paper such as ours, the duration of this conflict has posed some real special difficulties. It’s gone on for months, and the difficulties for us are several-fold. One is obviously the budget. We didn’t budget for covering a conflict of this nature, and initially we decided to ignore the budget considerations and do what we had to and then worry about the cost later–and ideally have a publisher who permitted us to spend what we could, which we did have.
But there are a lot of expenses, not just the bodyguards that we needed to hire and the expense of being over there and the incredible satellite communications cost that we continued to bear, but costs of every type that really have spun out of control. [It is] just something for a paper of our size that we really do ultimately have to reckon with.
The second thing is the reservoir of experienced staff, experienced in covering events overseas, first of all, and certainly covering events in that part of the world. The truth of the matter is that other than the people that I rattled off here, we really didn’t have a lot of people on our staff who had covered that region. In fact, we had very few people on our staff who had reported from overseas. And yet we were committed to trying to cover that story for the long run.
We didn’t feel that we could keep those particular reporters in Afghanistan for an endless period of time. There were only so many power bars still around, and some people were pretty exhausted. So we implemented a system of rotation. We asked for volunteers instead of forcing people to go, of course, and we had a lot of volunteers on our staff. Most of them were younger reporters who wanted that foreign experience and had to get it for the first time some time; they were people who were interested in the adventure, interested in learning about it, and I think did a really exceptional job. They were some of the brightest stars on our staff.
We sent over our higher education writer. We sent over our New England writer. We sent over our medical writer, and a general assignment. We sent over a lot of these folks, and they did really an exceptional job. And I think we really had no choice but to do that.
The final issue was an issue of safety for our people there. As I mentioned, we did hire bodyguards, some of whom threatened our own reporters in order to get more money, some of whom fell asleep on the job, and some of whom actually did their jobs. We obviously spent for bulletproof vests, but these [reporters] were not people who had gone through some sort of training and conflicts like this. There are programs like that, and we hope at some point to put people through those programs. But a lot of these people were going into [this kind of] setting for the very first time.
The final issue we had to consider was when to end all this. We do not have unlimited resources. We never made the decision to create a full-time bureau in Kabul, and we don’t intend to. We hope we don’t have to. And to be quite honest, some of the current stories seem fairly small bore. I think we did some exceptionally insightful stories along the way, but those seem fewer and far between right now.
Our coverage post-9/11 really had nothing to do with the demographics of Boston, of course. This was a story for us as a nation and an important story for us to cover, regardless. It was a story in which Boston took a particular interest, simply because two of the planes, the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, came out of Logan Airport, and there were many victims from Boston.
I should say, though, that Boston’s changing demographics do have some impact on our thinking about foreign coverage. While I generally agree with Steve that that’s not the sole prism through which we should look at this, I don’t think that it’s something that should be ignored either. Boston is now a city that’s over 50 percent minority. Of course, not all of those are immigrants, but a substantial portion of them are. They are people from Asia, countries like China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and from Latin America, all sorts of countries, and from Haiti as well, and various Caribbean countries.
Demographics, I think, play a role, but not the exclusive role in determining where we position our foreign staff. We now have positions in Canada, Moscow, London, Tel Aviv, and Hong Kong. We have a position somewhere in Latin America which we’re deciding where to put–it’s currently vacant. Tel Aviv, obviously, because we have a large Jewish community in Boston. We also have a very large Arab community in Boston. And so all of those people take a special interest, a very intense interest, in what’s happening in that part of the world. And in Asia, obviously, [Boston has] a lot of immigrants from there, but [we also need to be positioned there], I think, because of its importance economically, and because of immigration from those countries and its general importance to the direction of the world.
I think historically The Globe has had somebody in London because of our interest in Ireland. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of Irish immigrants. It’s also a good base for covering other parts of Europe. And, as I said, we have a tremendous amount of immigration from Latin America, particularly the Dominican Republic and Brazil. We also have a lot of people from Haiti.
We’re fortunate in Boston in that we do have a very educated audience. The latest census showed that Massachusetts has the most educated populace of any state in the country: a lot of people with college degrees who will tell you what we ought to be doing. How broad is the audience for international news? I’m not sure I can say, but I know that the interest is particularly intense. In Miami, Carlos Castaneda, who is the longtime Editor and Publisher of El Nuevo Herald, always said that foreign news is local news, and I think that is definitely true in Miami, a place that has had waves of immigration not just from Cuba but from Venezuela, Colombia, Ar-gentina. Right now half of the Hispanics in that area are from someplace other than Cuba. And even if that audience is not as broad as it is in Boston, the interest in foreign news is particularly intense.
ALEX S. JONES: Let me ask all three of you: You represent three different newspapers of different sizes, different resources, different audiences. I would ask you if you would please be as candid as possible. You’re decision makers at your news organizations. If the ownership of your news organization said to you, on the one hand, I’m going to give you an extra page of news hole, you can put it anywhere in the newspaper you want–or, as an alternative hypothetical, I’m going to take a page of news hole away from you.
I would ask you, where would international news fit into both of those equations, adding a page and taking a page away?
MARTIN BARON: Well, you know, we can’t take one page away. We can only take four pages away at a time, so it’s a much more difficult decision than you present. But, in any event, in terms of adding a page, to be honest, because you asked me to be, I would not add it to international news. Thinking off the top of my head, I would probably add it to local news. I think that we need more coverage of local news, and we’re tight on space there. I think we would probably add it there.
I want to avoid the issue of where to take space away from. I don’t know. I’m not going to answer it, actually, because I won’t hear the end of it, and I probably wouldn’t be honest in answering it anyway.
ALEX S. JONES: Steve, will you be honest?
STEVE COLL: Up to a point, yes. Actually, we’ve already undertaken this exercise in a way since September 11, because we felt, confronted with the breadth of the story, that our news hole wasn’t arrayed adequately. So we’ve, in effect, taxed our soft feature sections to fund national and international and national security coverage, and haven’t stopped doing so since September. The rate of taxation has declined somewhat as the months have gone on. But we found that we could increase by about the order of a page the amount of news hole we had available to cover the national security story, including the international dimensions of it, without changing the quality of the newspaper or even the quality of the feature sections that we taxed. And whether that’s sustainable long run I don’t know, but it’s sustainable today.
We also have a very important local news mission and worry about resources we put against that, and we are adding resources to that mission at the same time. But these are unusual times for journalism.
J. GERARDO LOPEZ: Well, I would say we would add it to the local coverage, or reduce it. As I tried to explain earlier, we try to adjust to the importance of developments, and if an international news item is of great importance to our community, we just cut some space in some other areas and make room for it. ALEX S. JONES: You mentioned, Marty, the Middle East as being right now one of the principal focuses of this kind of thing. I wonder if you would describe, very briefly, and then we’ll go to questions, the kinds of pressures, new pressures perhaps, that you find yourself under to bend your coverage to respond and be sensitive to sensibilities. What is the reality out there?
MARTIN BARON: Well, the reality is that people are reading our every word, dissecting everything that we do, evaluating every term that we use. We heard some of this earlier about the use of the word “terrorism”–what’s a freedom fighter, what constitutes terrorism, what’s occupation, what’s an invasion, what’s a military operation, what is an incursion? If you thought about it too much, you could barely write a story, I imagine. And I can tell you that certainly in Miami the coverage of Cuba is monitored very closely, starting with the Cuban American National Founda-tion, but going on from there to innumerable other groups and ordinary citizens as well, who will let you know in no uncertain terms what they think of you and, I’m afraid, allege bias at every turn. The allegation of bias is being leveled constantly in relationship to the Middle East and not just by Jewish groups in the country, but also Arab American groups as well. And it’s very intense and very sensitive.
What do we do about it? All you can do is fall back on what you think is good and fair and comprehensive. You listen patiently and intently to what everybody has to say. If they are making a good point, and frequently a good point is made, you have to take that into consideration in editing these stories in the future. Just because you’ve listened to someone and you end up acknowledging that they’ve made a good point, and you enforce that later on, does not mean that you’re bending to pressure; it means that you’re learning.
But the truth is that we’re not going to satisfy everybody every day. And in many instances it doesn’t matter what we did yesterday. It only matters what we did in today’s paper, because today’s story is evidence of bias and that you’re anti-Palestinian or you’re anti-Israel or you’re anti-Cuban. In my career I’ve been “anti” so many things I can barely keep straight what I’m against.
SEYMOUR TOPPING: I’m at Columbia University. As editors, have you ever conducted some kind of a survey to determine in your circulation area how many jobs depend upon foreign imports, exports, or investments, or, generally speaking, the economic ties in your circulation area to countries abroad, how that might affect interest in foreign news? And have you addressed that at all?
MARTIN BARON: I’m not aware of one that the newspaper has done in the Boston area, although I’m sure that they exist by economic development agencies and organizations of various types. There are huge international ties. There are banking ties. The mutual fund industry in Boston is investing in the world, the technology industry has its markets and its competition around the world. And universities get enormous numbers of students, a very lucrative form of student, from around the world, and the same is true of the medical organizations in Boston, which are profiting from a lot of foreigners coming there for treatment. Certainly in Miami, that is, Miami business for the most part, there is an enormous amount of international trade, and it has been quantified; I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is.
MARVIN KALB: I am with the Shorenstein Center in Washington. Marty Baron, you touched on the issue of the impact of the budget on coverage. I’d like to ask Steve if he could help us understand the way in which budgetary considerations are affecting Post coverage. For example, how much was the budget for news, if you can tell us, prior to 9/11? What was it then? Within six months, how do you envisage it if this is a long-term story and it’s all over the world? What kind of consideration has gone into thinking about the Post’s budget two, three, four years down the road?
STEVE COLL: The events of 9/11 and the aftermath occurred in the worst advertising recession that the media suffered since the 1930’s. Though The Post remained profitable and ownership and the publisher remained firmly committed to doing everything we needed to do to cover the story that we all recognized was a story of our time, at the same time it was not something undertaken without regard to the budget.
I don’t think that the absolute amount of money that we have spent on news since September 11 has increased meaningfully, but it has been reallocated substantially. There are informal understandings that we’re blessed to have with the boss that you do what’s necessary; you just go, and we’ll worry about it later. And that’s been the tradition.
LOUISE LIEF: We’ve been hearing a lot today about this elusive under-35 audience that seems almost totally disengaged from news. I’m wondering, since we have three very distinguished editors here, if you have any ideas about how to reengage the under-35s in news.
MARTIN BARON: It’s a very tough issue and a very important issue for us. The results of the polling were discouraging because I certainly had hoped that, if there was any good to come out of 9/11, it would be that young people who experienced a sense of vulnerability that they hadn’t before would recognize that international events were important to them, and that would provide us with an emerging market of readers–not to be too crass and view this in commercial terms.
If we’re to believe the results of the polling, and I have no reason not to, then we should be discouraged by that. What can we do about it? I don’t know. I think reaching a younger market has proven very difficult. I think that our job is to do the best we can in terms of covering news events around the world. Unfortunately, I happen to believe that there will be more terrorist attacks on the United States.
To the extent that 9/11 engaged the interest of younger people, if it continues, which I think it will, then their interest will be engaged that much more often. In terms of what we can do on a regular basis, I wish I had some really bright ideas in that regard.
STEVE COLL: There is no doubt that the generation now in its 20’s–never mind the generation now at home on Instant Messenger while we’re here, chatting with their friends–is consuming information through a completely different set of media and assumptions and habits than did the boomers who are our core readers and will, fortunately, age slowly and gracefully and continue to read for a long period of time.
Whether that means that newsrooms can’t fund journalism that those two generations wish to consume for their adult lives I think is an open question and an exciting challenge, and a really difficult one.
J. GERARDO LOPEZ: That has been a difficult group of people to attract to the newspaper. We’ve been trying hard to bring them in, and we have been to a certain degree successful, with our very good soccer coverage and also with the creation a couple of years ago of a weekly supplement that was targeted and geared totally toward young people 18 to 24.
They love In Español, rock in Spanish, and we’re about the only vehicle in Los Angeles that provides news and information related to that particular kind of music. We’ve been able to bring in some people with the hope that they might migrate eventually into other parts of the newspaper and we get them to be regular readers of the paper.