How to find out about the mess in Bosnia

Last week I went for the first time to the regular bloggers’ breakfast in Berkeley. I sat next to an intelligent, well-informed non-blogger who harped on the old canard about bloggers merely offering comment on items they had read in the “professional” media. As my friend Dave Winer, who was also at the breakfast, said, “In Berkeley?”

In my daily perusing of feeds in Google Reader I find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of counter examples each day. Take today. If you want an insight into the international community’s mishandling of Bosnia, look no further than afoe (A Fistful of Euros). The limited appetite Americans in particular have for international news is largely dominated these days by the Middle East, with a dash of China. But the Balkans are still with us. I had a chill of recognition with this passage:

I’ve known a lot of Bosnians. They’re lovely people. But their politicians are, by and large, the scum of the earth. Nowhere, not even in Serbia — not even in Texas — is there such a baffling contrast between likable, easy-going ordinary people and the venal, mean-spirited asstards they choose to lead them. It’s a disturbing mystery.

(BTW, I heard a wonderful recording of a Fresh Air interview with the just-deceased Molly Ivins last week. She told some great stories about lousy, corrupt Texas politicians.)

The importance of blogs like afoe can be gauged by this passage from Ethan Zuckerman: “Of the two hundred fifty foreign correspondents [working for US media], one hundred are employed by the Wall Street Journal. I wondered about the geographical distribution of that hundred and the other reporters – would we find a huge concentration of journalists in Iraq and Israel? Would we find any in Africa other than in Cairo and Jo’burg?”

4 thoughts on “How to find out about the mess in Bosnia

  1. Felix

    Interesting to me: When the Boston Globe announced it was closing all its foreign bureaus, we found out that “all its foreign bureaus” were: Berlin, Bogota, and Jerusalem. I’d love to read the history of how those three cities became considered the optimal three cities to place foreign bureaus.

    What would your three be? I can think of three Bs alone which would be better: Beijing, Brussels, and Beirut.

  2. Lance Knobel

    Beijing is a no-brainer, unless you deem it better to have someone in Shanghai (could be true if the FT only had one person in China, for example).

    Then it gets tricky. I know Brussels is the “capital” of Europe, but I’m sure you could have someone in Paris, London or Berlin do just as good a job, with the advantage of being in a major capital, besides. Pick one of the above.

    Finally, for a US paper you probably do need a Middle East bureau. Is Beirut a better vantage point than Jerusalem? Than Cairo? I’m agnostic. Non-US media could possibly put Delhi or Mumbai higher in the priorities. I remember in my WEF days the surprise that Americans always — and I mean always, no matter where they were on the political spectrum — put the Middle East at the top of their foreign policy agenda. Not China, not Russia, certainly not Africa or Latin America. Rightly or wrongly, for much of the rest of the world the Middle East is not seen as so central, to the exclusion of other concerns.

    I’m shocked you don’t include anywhere in Latin America, Felix.

  3. Doug

    I dunno, if a US paper had only three foreign bureaus, a good case could be made for America’s top three trading partners: Canada, Mexico and Japan. But I suspect that bureau decisions are partly personality driven and partly historical artifacts of a given newspaper’s development.

    Would the NY Times European edition (the newspaper formerly known as the Herald Tribune) be based in Paris if they were building it from scratch? Honestly, I can barely see Paris cracking the top five, and that’s dependent on how you think about Moscow as a European city. If a US paper were building a European edition from scratch, the top four cities would probably be London (financial capital, semi-common language, downside: competing head-on with the FT), Brussels (European capital, NATO, downside: almost as dull as its reputation), Berlin (capital of EU’s most important country, history always good for stories, downside: bad airport), Frankfurt (ECB, financial capital of EU’s most important city, downside: also almost as dull as its reputation), and only then places like Paris, Rome or Moscow. Which is a long way of saying, look to the institutional history rather than reason to discover why Berlin, Bogota, Jerusalem.


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