Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Sound foreign news coverage can save lives

Share

Sometimes in this job praise is as important as criticism. So let me report an anguished phone call I received last Tuesday morning, shortly after the Burma cyclone. A director of an international charity was on the line. "I just despair of our press," he complained. "Here's a huge international disaster and most don't even put it on the front page." He was right. Only 'The Independent', 'The Guardian' and 'The Times' made it the main page-one headline, while others were preoccupied with that other "important" foreign story – the bizarre sexual tastes of Austrian "cellar beast" Josef Fritzl.

By the next day, as the scale of the crisis in Burma worsened, so did much of the press coverage. Only 'The Independent' (and uncharacteristically, but to its credit, 'The Sun') thought it worth leading on. "And tens of thousands dead," said my friend. "What a crazy sense of priorities!"

It does seem a paradox that the more the British travel abroad and the more internationalised our economy becomes, the less we are deemed to be interested in foreign news. 'The Independent' and 'Independent on Sunday' remain among a handful of British newspapers to retain foreign bureaux and world-class writers in key parts of the globe. Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn in the Middle East, Rupert Cornwell and David Usborne in Washington, and John Lichfield in Paris are familiar names. Andrew Buncombe, our man in Rangoon, files a harrowing report on the Burma cyclone aftermath on pages 16-17 today.

This is not to downplay other quality papers, who have their stars and serious coverage, too. But some nationals have no foreign correspondents at all – or even a foreign desk. It's a trend reflected internationally. Researchers at Harvard University report that by 2006 the entire US media – print and broadcast – was supported by only 141 correspondents in the whole world.

By comparison, 'The Independent' and 'IoS' together have nine staffed bureaux, 11 staff correspondents and a dozen or so others who report for the paper around the world. The daily paper "splashes" on a foreign story on half the days in an average week and runs a 2,000-word daily overseas spread – a key part of the paper's "brand". 'Independent' foreign editor Katherine Butler says: "You can never afford to be complacent. We had been keeping an eye on Burma ever since the uprising and taken the precaution of applying for a visa for our Asia correspondent a few weeks ago. This meant that when the cyclone struck, we were able to move really quickly."

t I'm delighted to report that readers have been rallying to my "Blimp" campaign to Ban the Lazy and Meaningless Phrase. Today's prize goes to Michael Davison from Kingston upon Thames, who writes: "For my favourite 'Blimp', look no further than the 'IoS' last week and a reference to 'legendary actor Sir John Gielgud'. I can assure you Gielgud was no 'legend' but a real flesh-and-blood person: I saw him on stage myself, many times!" Quite.

mailto:readerseditor@independent.co.uk

Is Boris a loose cannon trained on the Tories?

Our story suggesting David Cameron regarded the new London Mayor as a liability who could lose him the next election had readers lobbying on all sides at ios.typepad.com

Mack

We deserve to have a true banged-up clown as the Mayor. London, like many other capital cities across the world, is only a delusion of a prosperous oasis for a few international happy-go-lucky people.

Adam Winter

Well done, Boris. A refreshing change from stale, boring and party-line-driven clones. I look forward to a period where Boris leads with common sense and practical governance.

Ramiles

It was time for a change in London. However, is this Etonian buffoon really the best candidate the Tories could come up with? Perhaps not much in their party has changed. What a depressing thought.

Neil McGowan

Tory party HQ will be mentoring him at every step to ensure the gaffe-proof election campaign matures into a gaffe-proof tenure as Mayor. All eyes will now be on London without Newt Labour.

Mike Poulsen

Behind the facade of a buffoon ticks an almost frighteningly intelligent brain. Boris is not a joke, or a loose cannon, and the press demean themselves by portraying him thus.

Phil Williams

As Labour supporters, this is the "Get out of jail" card we have all been praying for. A loose cannon in the capital is great news for us all.

zone 2

Alas, too many in London preferred Boris to Ken – if only as the lesser of two evils. Does Boris really have it in him to be a party- hack polemical mayor? Watch out for Boris the Independent in 2012.

Daniel Earwicker

According to the 'IoS', the only two areas of policy difference between Ken and Boris are immigration – nothing to do with mayoral politics – and his proposal to "water down" the extended congestion charge.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert