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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'