Thursday, January 25, 2007

Don't Cry for me, Bogota

Conventional wisdom is the Globe made itself a smaller paper by closing its three remaining foreign bureaus as part of its continued downsizing. I say well done. I may be the only media maven not fretting over the shuttering of the Globe's international outposts but I'd be willing to bet I'm in the majority of avid Globe readers who couldn't care less.

The Globe's international reporting has been steller over the years, no doubt. John Donnelly has done great work from Africa, Elizabeth Neuffer was courageous in Iraq.

But my personal high water mark was Colin Nickerson in Sarajevo at the height of the Bosnian conflict. His stories about the animals trapped starving in the zoo while snipers took out people trying to feed them were nothing short of brilliant. I was a college intern on the Globe foreign desk then and gave him dispatches on local news and sports as he filed his copy each night. We hung his used Kevlar body armor on the newsroom wall after he'd pulled out. His writing, his heroism and his commitment helped convince me to stay in journalism for more than a decade.

But each of those examples, and most others that are being used by the Kleenex crowd mourning the loss of their father's Globe have a stunning pattern - they weren't reporters actually based in the city or even the region they were covering. They shuttled in and out of conflicts, tragedies and triumphs the way great journalists have done for decades. And I see nothing in Marty Baron's memo that says the Globe won't keep doing that - and keep doing that well.

The happy side result is that there's a chance the Globe will rededicate those resources to covering Boston. And not just the latest murder on Blue Hill, Governor Patrick's lastest podcast or where to find the best burger in the city. I mean covering Boston and Massachusetts the way only a dominant daily can. By breaking news before the developers tell them they can break it, by telegraphing what our government is doing with our money before they do it and by telling the kind of simple, heart-wrenching stories a city like ours strives for but too often doesn't see because of simple journalistic laziness.

What do I mean by this? Check Steve Bailey's Downtown column most days - just in the last few weeks he upended the debate over tolls and taxes and went on to artfully lampoon those bemoaning the loss of prescious Lottery revenues. Read Kevin Cullen's amazing tale of the Iraqi boy named Rakan who was shot in Iraq and "put back together" by a team of Boston doctors. And pick up Brian McGrory - the man has truly grown into the heartbeat of Boston.

I'm not fully in the Jack Welch camp that all large regional dailies like the Globe need to exclusively refocus their energies on local news alone. As my former Herald colleague Michael Gee pointed out on his blog, our alma mater tried that.

But they need to focus on what they can and should do best. Sure, all newspapers need to figure out a new way to make money on the Internet and to give their seemingly dying product life. But we all know the one thing bloggers, TV news, radio and citizen journalists can't do as well as a strong daily newspaper - actually cover their region. To that end, the Globe has taken a strong step in the right direction.

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