Signing Off at the State Department  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   November 1998

Signing Off at the State Department   

By Peter Arnett
Peter Arnett is a former foreign correspondent for CNN and the Associated Press.     

Related reading:
   » State of The American Newspaper
Goodbye, World


The eclipse of foreign news coverage is evident not just on the nation's front pages, but at a venue that for half a century was one of the most vital beats in Washington--the State Department.

Once such familiar TV journalists as Ted Koppel and Bernard Kalb were fixtures at State, but these days, with the Cold War over and (relative) peace abroad, only CNN maintains a reporter there. And now there's only one newspaper reporter stationed there full-time--Toni Marshall of the Washington Times.

That's not to say newspapers no longer cover the State Department; they do. They just go about it much differently than their predecessors.

With advances in technology, and with America's foreign policy determined as much at the White House and the Pentagon as at State, foreign affairs reporters no longer need to be tethered to the State Department itself. And many prefer not to be. If they miss the daily State briefing, a transcript is available within minutes, an audio version moves on the Internet, and C-SPAN is apt to televise it later that afternoon. Of course, reporters not at the briefing can't ask questions, but that's not necessarily much of a handicap. They can later contact department specialists, who are likely to be more forthcoming than the formal briefer, anyway.

Nonetheless, with fewer journalists at State, the risk grows that some important story will go unnoticed. And the number of reporters who travel with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is half what it was during Henry Kissinger's tenure. Indeed, an informal survey reveals the media to be far less committed to foreign affairs coverage than even 10 years ago.

That's not true in all cases. For instance, six Los Angeles Times correspondents spend all or part of their time covering foreign affairs from Washington. The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times and Christian Science Monitor all have several people on the beat, as do the Associated Press and Reuters. Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report all have two State reporters, and Business Week has one. But regional papers with traditionally strong foreign affairs coverage, such as the Detroit News, Cleveland's Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, have virtually given it up. Such chains as Cox, Gannett, Hearst and Scripps Howard have pared or eliminated their coverage, too.

Here's a look at the changing state at State:

• Newspaper foreign affairs reporters:
Los Angeles Times: Norman Kempster, James Mann, Tyler Marshall, Stanley Meisler, Robin Wright, Bob Drogin (Each spends at least half his/her time on foreign affairs.)
New York Times: Steven Erlanger, Elaine Sciolino, Philip Shenon, columnist Thomas L. Friedman
Wall Street Journal: Robert S. Greenberger, Carla Anne Robbins
Washington Post: Thomas W. Lippman, Barton Gellman
Washington Times: Ben Barber, Toni Marshall, Martin Sieff (Two of the three are full-time on foreign affairs at any given time.)
(Baltimore) Sun: Mark Matthews
Boston Globe: David Marcus
Chicago Tribune: Position open
Newsday: Roy Gutman
Knight Ridder Newspapers: John Donnelly
USA Today: Lee Michael Katz
Christian Science Monitor: Jonathan Landay, Peter Grier
Dallas Morning News: Richard Whittle

• Wire service foreign affairs reporters:
Associated Press: Barry Schweid, George Gedda, Don Rothberg, Laura Myers (Schweid, Gedda are full-time.)
Reuters: Carol Giacomo, Jonathan Wright
United Press International: Sid Balman

•Newspapers that have eliminated or severely reduced State coverage:
Cox Newspapers
Hearst Newspapers
Scripps Howard Newspapers
Gannett Newspapers
San Francisco Chronicle
Denver Post
Chicago Sun-Times
Miami Herald
Houston Chronicle
New York Daily News
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Detroit News
Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

•News organizations that routinely travel with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:
Washington Post
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
Associated Press
Reuters
ABC
CBS
NBC
CNN

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