Most US newspapers leave foreign news gathering to others
Journalists Report on Journalism and the News
In May, The Martha's Vineyard Times began its 25th publishing year. Since 1984, The Times has focused on the issues that are important to the Island's year-round and seasonal residents by providing a weekly blend of community news. And it has proven to be a successful formula, despite tough competition. But the ways the Vineyard and the world receives news are changing.
To celebrate its quarter century milestone, this summer The Times invited experienced journalists from several different types of media, all with a personal connection to the Vineyard, to speak about what they do, how they do it, and what changes they expect to see in the years ahead.
The series began with Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, who answered questions from a congenial crowd of more than 200 fellow summer and year-round Islanders, during a discussion of journalism at the Chilmark Community Center on July 10.
Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent, was next on July 20. Speaking to a full house Ms. Liasson provided an animated description of the national political landscape and the role the national media plays in delivering the news.
The last evening of the series features Charles Sennott, who appears at 8 pm Sunday in the Chilmark Community Center. Mr. Sennott left the Boston Globe this spring to become executive editor and vice president of Global News Enterprises, the first US-based website devoted exclusively to international news. While at the Globe he served as the paper's Middle East bureau chief in Jerusalem and as the European bureau chief in London. Most recently, he documented the rise of the Taliban and the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden.
A seasonal Edgartown resident, Mr. Sennott is the author of three books and has won several awards, including the Livingston Award for National Reporting and the Foreign Press Association Story of the Year.
The community center is located on South Road in Chilmark, next to the Chilmark Library. There is no charge.
Increasingly, events in once distant lands affect Americans in their daily lives. But, even as overseas news reporting becomes more critical to informed decision making, many newspapers have scaled back or eliminated once choice foreign reporting assignments.
Photo courtesy Gary Knight VII photo agency
Charles Sennott said he was one of the lucky ones. For years, he traveled the world as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe. But the era of the foreign bureau has passed, Mr. Sennott said this week.
The alleyways of Khartoum are a long way from the streets of Jersey City, and some might say as dangerous. But the skills Charles Sennott honed as a young reporter on the local police beat have served him well as a foreign correspondent reporting from some of the most dangerous spots on the globe.
Mr. Sennott is originally from Sherborn. He got his first taste of journalism though his brother, a photographer for the Boston Herald. "That led to me being in a newsroom. I was about 16, and I knew that I definitely wanted to work in a newsroom, and I wanted to work in a newspaper," he said.
His goal early on was to work for the Boston Globe, a newspaper he admired for its character, writers and tradition. He achieved his goal through diligence and hard work, characteristics that mark his career.
Mr. Sennott attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and worked as a reporter for the local NPR station. After graduating from the Columbia School of Journalism, he landed a job with the highly regarded Bergen Record in northern New Jersey.
He said he knew he wanted to be a foreign correspondent and always looked for an international angle in the stories he covered. One of his beats included a large Cuban community in Union City, often referred to as "Havana on the Hudson."
He used his Spanish speaking skills to look for interesting stories. He broke a story about a group training to fight with the Contras, a big story for a relatively small newspaper. His pursuit of the story led him to Honduras.
"It was a local story that began in New Jersey, but it had the thread of international reporting to it that was something I always wanted to pursue, and I managed to find a way to do that," he said.
He later joined the New York Daily News, where he continued to look for stories with an international bent. While reporting on the crack cocaine wave sweeping across the city, he talked his editors into sending him to Medellin, Colombia, so he could report on the source of the drugs.
Later, his reporting on the influx of Irish immigrants took him to Ireland and Northern Ireland. "I always saw the connection between local and international," said Mr. Sennott. "And that really came together for me in 1993."
Mr. Sennott was near the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, when a 1,500-pound car bomb detonated. He responded to it as a street reporter. The story led him to follow the suspects and the story, first to Jersey City and Brooklyn and ultimately overseas. "Just as you would if you were a police reporter knocking on doors in Brooklyn or Jersey City, I went to Pakistan, Egypt, West Bank, Khartoum Sudan, and really followed what became nascent Al Qaeda from the beginning," he said. "That became a body of work that I still am doing. I still think of it as a local story."
Mr. Sennott said he had the fundamentals to do the job. "I think being a cop reporter and doing street reporting is the best training to become a foreign correspondent, he said. "It takes the same doggedness and diligence to just go after it and work hard to get to where the story is and tell the story. You learn over time to trust your instincts because you have been in a lot of tricky spots."
After a disagreement with his editor, one he will describe on Sunday, Mr. Sennott left a job he loved to fulfill his dream of becoming a foreign correspondent for the Globe.
When the World Trade Center fell to terrorists on September 11, 2001, he had already spent eight years reporting on the elements that came together that fateful day. "I was able to bring that experience, and some of the sources and some of the history and understanding, to the coverage I did for the Globe."
Mr. Sennott said that part of what he will speak about on Sunday is how what was once a traditional career path that he followed overseas and ultimately to the Globe's Middle East bureau and London bureau has disappeared.
"Foreign news bureaus are being shut down by mainstream media right and left ... Baltimore Sun, Newsday, the Boston Globe, none of those papers have foreign correspondents anymore or foreign editors, and that is why I have set out to start this international news organization online [Global News Enterprises]. It is because there really is, I think, an opportunity to reinvent international reporting."
He expects to support his new venture through advertising, syndication and premium membership. Mr. Sennott said the economics simply no longer work for print newspapers to maintain foreign news coverage in the old manner. But that does not change the importance of foreign news.
"I think the issues we face, terrorism, climate change, global health, are all global issues and they require eyes out there looking at that," he said.
Mr. Sennott is married and has four sons. He acknowledges the dangers he faces in reporting from dangerous parts of the world. He recently returned from Iraq.
"I never take these journeys lightly. I continue to travel there, because I think it is really important, it is what I do, and I think that we need eyes on the ground and we need people who have some background in the region doing some reporting, but I never do it out of some cavalier sense or some cowboy approach ... I have other colleagues who have children, and we think about it all the time, and we take these risks with great attention to just how much is at stake and how careful we have to be."
Mr. Sennott said much of the criticism directed at the media is justified and necessary. "I think the media failed in the lead up to the war in Iraq, and that is something we can discuss on Sunday," he said. "But in the same breath, I would say that the bashing of the media is monolithic, when in fact there are many people who do courageous and sometimes even heroic journalism, and they do it with a sense of fairness and balance, and I think they are often overlooked along with the contribution they make to our understanding of a pretty rough world in the post 9/11 reality."
Mr. Sennott said that except for some of the larger newspapers, such reporters are sadly imperiled. "A lot of talented journalists no longer have the opportunity to go out and tell stories in the world, and I think it is not too grand to say that it imperils our democracy," he said.
He says too often the voice of news speaks with a British accent, courtesy of the BBC. His goal is to provide a uniquely American voice in foreign reporting.
Mr. Sennott has family connections to the Vineyard. His wife's sister, Marcy Klapper, is a reading teacher at the West Tisbury School. His brother-in-law, Laurie Binney, is principal of the Oak Bluffs School.
Throughout his years as a world traveler, the Vineyard always provided a refuge, Mr. Sennott says. "As I became a foreign correspondent and began to travel, we always considered the Island our home. We didn't have a home other than where we lived abroad, but we considered our home in America the Vineyard."u
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