Readers often raise questions about foreign news in The Post: what is covered, from what perspective it is presented and, most commonly, what is left out. Why isn't there more from East Timor? Or Brazil? Or Angola, which Phil Bennett, the assistant managing editor for foreign news, places on "the Top 10 list of overlooked human disasters"? Is The Post evenhanded in its coverage of Northern Ireland or Israel? "It's impossible to cover divisive issues fairly without drawing criticism from one of the sides, and we certainly do," says Bennett. "We believe our coverage is fair." On this there are probably as many opinions as there are readers, especially those who have familial or professional ties to other countries.
What's apparent from an examination of The Post's foreign news coverage is that the newspaper does not offer all the news -- or even, with 25 correspondents -- pretend to do so. The emphasis is on news that can be anticipated, including elections, international conferences and papal or presidential visits; locales that correspondents can get to in a timely fashion; and events or trends with major implications for life in these United States.
Sometimes it's a matter of logistics; sometimes it's a matter of courage and ingenuity; and sometimes it's a matter of what strikes the fancy of either editors in Washington or correspondents on the ground. "We expect them to use their power of analysis, their knowledge of the history and the culture of the place," Bennett says. In this scheme of things, correspondents are sometimes slow to respond to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes; they're better with slice-of-life pieces that offer insight into a country or a culture. "We're often criticized for doing too much or too little on events in which human beings are suffering and dying."
In response to criticism that some parts of the world are too often ignored, Bennett says of The Post's foreign service, "We're more equitable than we've ever been in spreading people around the world." Some bureau locations are as obvious as they are traditional. London. Paris. Berlin. Rome. Moscow. Beijing. Cairo. Jerusalem. On the African continent there are three other bureaus: in Nairobi; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and Johannesburg.
But the newest bureaus offer a view of where foreign coverage is headed as The Post "comes to terms with a new map of the world," as Bennett puts it. Those bureaus, which opened last year, are in Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta, Indonesia. As Bennett sees it, countries that were "on the periphery during the Cold War" must now be viewed "on their own terms, with their own dynamics and their own histories." He predicts that Brazil, Iran, Indonesia, India, Turkey, Mexico and South Africa will command greater attention -- and space -- in The Post as they undergo "the most interesting, important struggles over modernization."
But for a good part of this year, Kosovo and the various conflicts in the Balkans have consumed resources and news space. That has not gone unnoticed by readers; to them, Bennett says he hopes to continue to broaden coverage well beyond war and pestilence. "A range of issues and trends needs to be more at the center of our approach to countries and beats: medicine, education, popular culture, human rights, population, religion, race, aging and childhood, the environment." He especially wants to bring Latin America into The Post with greater regularity, depth and variety. In addition to Rio, The Post has correspondents in Mexico City and Buenos Aires; a correspondent in Miami covers parts of Central America.
This is a snapshot of how The Post covers the world and the standards by which that coverage should be judged. Bennett welcomes dialogue with readers, as that, he says, provides the sparks that lead Post editors to reexamine their approach.
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 334-7582.