desks abroad

(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

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

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

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.)


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

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.

multilateral discarmament

Growing up near and then in Berkeley, I got used to the traffic barriers and speed bumps that dot the residential side streets not far from downtown and the university campus. I’ve heard people unfamiliar with the area complain about the inconvenience they cause drivers trying to get across town, but my parents knew where to turn to avoid getting dead-ended. That was sort of the point: keeping passers-through on the major streets and non-local traffic off the smaller ones.*

Today I see that some of the counties outside DC have been adopting similar tactics for similar reasons. The Post report makes it sound like a war:

Scores of commuters were using Southampton Drive in Kings Park every day to cut between Rolling and Braddock roads and avoid several stoplights and bumper-to-bumper congestion. The community petitioned for and added speed humps every block or so. The humps were followed by four-way stop signs, a 15-mph speed limit and concrete “bump-outs” that make the road seem narrower and cut speeds.

Drivers stopped using Southampton but switched to parallel Eastbourne Drive. The community took the unusual step of installing a concrete barrier to prevent a right turn onto Eastbourne. A “Do Not Enter” sign made it even more daunting.

So drivers took a left off Southampton and used Kings Park Drive. The community responded with more speed humps and speed restrictions. Then it brought out the heavy artillery: traffic circles.

I believe that’s in Fairfax county. Here’s Montgomery County:

Chevy Chase and Bethesda have learned to combat cut-through artists by making it nearly impossible to get from Massachusetts Avenue to Wisconsin or Connecticut avenues via neighborhoods. Once-tempting streets now have an array of signs with so many prohibitions that drivers sometimes have to pull over to figure out whether and when to turn.

Signs at Bradley Boulevard and Kennedy Drive (an alluring alternative to the parallel, choked Little Falls Parkway) prohibit left or right turns during rush times. And trucks and buses weighing more than three-quarters of a ton can’t drive through. However, the signs specifically allow emergency vehicles on Kennedy Drive’s precious pavement.

Nancy Floreen, a Montgomery County Council member, said the county “wins the world prize on the footnotes we have on our street signs, like ‘No right turn when the moon is full’ sort of thing.”

There have been real benefits –

Sharon S. Bulova, the Fairfax County supervisor who represents Kings Park, said the neighborhood’s efforts reduced cut-through traffic by 60 percent.

“It really saved the community,” Bulova (D-Braddock) said. “They used to have cars ending up on lawns trying to take a curve too fast. Parents were fearful for kids and pets. People were in a hurry and in commuter mode.”

– but escalation is not without its costs:

Still, in some neighborhoods, even residents complain about living around so many restrictions, Floreen said.

Tracey Hughes of Somerset lives just off Dorset Avenue, which has the full complement of traffic humps, rumble strips, stop signs, crosswalk signs, electronic speed monitors and four-way stop signs at every block.

Hughes, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, said the street doesn’t appear to have too much traffic. But, she said, she assumes town leaders know what they are doing by installing the driving disincentives.

These battles might not stop unless something changes the terrain:

Transportation officials say residents want it both ways. Everyone wants roads that are quick and congestion-free as long as those roads don’t run in front of their homes. Instead of citylike street grids that distribute traffic evenly, suburban developments in recent decades have emphasized cul-de-sacs and winding streets that go nowhere and lacked through streets that could be used by outsiders.

That, said Ronald F. Kirby, transportation director of the Washington Council of Governments, forces almost all traffic onto arterial roads, which are barely able to handle it, especially during rush periods.

Bogged-down traffic on arteries pushes more traffic onto interstates, which were not designed for local trips. For example, Kirby said many motorists who use the Capital Beltway travel only an exit or two, an indication that regional arteries aren’t doing their jobs.

If only there were some kind of weapon that could take pressure off the through roads, some way of taking masses of people and transporting them from place to place, some tool that could be used to transform land use patterns…

*I usually walked to school on an almost straight line, right past the barricades. When my parents drove they took the side streets. When I took the bus I walked up or down the block to one of the main streets.

in search of a better wage

I guess some American workers are going abroad, after all:

As a restricted free agent in a market where nobody has cap space, he had no way to earn more than the midlevel exemption unless Atlanta decided to feel generous. So he took an offer from Olympiakos in Greece that’s worth more.

Categorized as migration

Tribune Thursday: Olympic controversy

It’s still just barely Thursday here.

  1. The Olympics have not been going well:

    The unfortunate series of disputes which have arisen since the opening of the Olympic games, not only between the Americans and the officials of the Amateur Athletic Association but between the athletes of other nations and the same officials, culminated this afternoon in an occurrence which threatened to wreck the Olympic games.

    The occurrence? The men’s 400 metre run was nearing the end:

    It looked like anybody’s race as they approached the last turn, the three leaders being bunched. Their spurt for the final hundred yards was just begun, when suddenly a number of officials rushed on to the track, the tape across the finish was torn down and the race was declared void.

    The officials claimed that J. C. Carpenter (USA) fouled Wyndham Halswelle (UK) on the turn. Not everyone agreed. Controversy ensued. All but one of the competitors ran through to the finish: Carpenter first, W. O. Robbins (USA) second, Halswelle third. The Americans wanted Carpenter declared the winner and filed a protest. They were not happy with what followed:

    A committee meeting of the Amateur Athletic Association, the details of which have not been made public, was called, and the judges who rendered the decision and Halswelle were called to state their case. Neither any member of the American committee nor any one of the three American runners, however, was called on to make any statement, and the committee, after more than two hours’ consideration, rendered the following decision:

    “The judges decide the race void, and order the same to be run over again on Saturday at noon. Carpenter is disqualified.”

    The American team has ordered their runners not to run on Saturday (in 1908, 24 July was a Friday) and released a statement detailing their objections.

  2. British papers on the Olympic 400 metre controversy: Carpenter fouled Halswelle, no question about it. The Daily Telegraph wonders if there’s more to the story:

    With three runners the Americans had a strong hand to play. They knew none of them was equal to Halswelle, so they were set to help one another on their journey. It is the writer’s view that all had a separate mission, although Taylor [who was far behind and who did not complete the race after the officials called it off] was no party to the plan laid down. He had no need to have it divulged to him.

  3. A huge thunderstorm hit New York and New Jersey.
  4. Three members of the National Guard were killed and twenty-six injured in an electrical storm that hit their camp in Gettysburg, PA yesterday.
  5. The military academy has suspended eight West Point cadets for hazing.
  6. President Roosevelt has ordered the Attorney General to retry the Standard Oil case. The paper seems to assume that readers know what it’s about; apparently an appeals court reversed an original decision that had gone against Standard Oil.

Photos: from the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.