A tribute to the shuttered McClatchy Beijing bureau — and the former Knight-Ridder international reportersPosted: January 1, 2016
When I started as the University of Pennsylvania stringer for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1974, I was greatly impressed that the Inquirer not only was a fearless advocate for Philadelphians, but it provided us with special insight into the world through its foreign correspondents and other reporters on the payroll of Knight-Ridder Newspapers. The global network of correspondents survived the demise of Knight-Ridder under the McClatchy umbrella.
In my 2 1/2 years in Beijing, I’ve had the opportunity to see the amazing work of McClatchy’s final China bureau chief, Stuart Leavenworth. His stories — perceptive, interesting and unique — reminded me what international correspondents for hometown papers offer. It’s not the same breaking news you get from traditional wire services. It’s added value that comes from a combination of skilled journalists with expertise in the subject matter they are covering and experienced editors who understand their audience (and the world).
Sadly, McClatchy is shuttering its Beijing bureau — and all of its bureaus — this new year. Another casualty of declining newspaper audiences and diminishing news budgets. I will really miss the fine work of these intrepid journalists, as, I suspect, will thousands of loyal readers who now have yet another reason not to subscribe to their hometown paper.
Mark Seibel, a former Dallas Times Herald colleague of mine and a longtime editor for the Miami Herald and the McClatchy D.C. bureau, penned a Facebook tribute to his colleagues. With his permission, I’d like to share it with you:
By Mark Seibel
The other day, Stuart Leavenworth, until midnight McClatchy’s China bureau chief, posted a farewell photo that captured the door of the McClatchy office in Beijing. The plaque read “McClatchy/Miami Herald/Beijing Bureau.” It reminded me that the closing today of McClatchy’s last handful of foreign bureaus – Beijing, Irbil, Istanbul, Mexico City, though not yet Berlin, for reasons of logistics — ends an era when regional newspapers worked hard to make sure their readers were informed not just on local news but on world events. Because readers expected that of their papers.
I first began directing coverage of China in 1984, when I joined The Miami Herald as foreign editor. The correspondent in Beijing then was Michael Browning, perhaps the most talented writer and observer I‘ve ever been privileged to edit. Three decades and his untimely death haven’t dimmed my memory of the lyrical way he described the rippling of a pig’s flesh as it was carried to market at what was the beginning of China’s economic reformation. He once profiled a woman who smoked hundreds of cigarettes daily as a tester in a Chinese state factory.
At the time, Browning’s competitors included correspondents not just from AP and the usual suspects, but from the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, and Newsday, among others. None of those papers has international bureaus today.
Browning’s time in China eventually ended, hastened by Chinese displeasure with his coverage of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and The Herald’s time as the keeper of the Beijing bureau also came to an end, when in the mid 90s, Knight-Ridder decided to centralize oversight of its eight corporate foreign bureaus in Washington. The wisdom of that move can still be debated; I’d argue it put another layer between local editors and international news coverage.
Many talented reporters have passed through the Knight Ridder/McClatchy foreign system. Marty Merzer, Juan O. Tamayo, Carol Rosenberg, Alfonso Chardy, John Donnelly, Soraya Nelson and Dion Nissenbaum all served in the Jerusalem bureau before it closed when Dion moved to Kabul. Hannah Allam, Nancy Youssef and Leila Fadel were Baghdad bureau chiefs, before Roy Gutman closed that bureau when he moved to Istanbul. Jack Changwas the last fulltime Rio de Janeiro correspondent, preceded by Kevin Halland Katherine Ellison. When Tom Lasseter left Moscow to cover China, the position was never filled; Brian Bonner occupied it for months, but never held the job permanently. Shashank Bengali’s departure from Nairobi ended McClatchy/Knight Ridder’s long run there. Nancy Youssef’s departure from Cairo ended our presence there.
Tim Johnson served in China before moving to the Mexico City bureau, which he’ll close in January. Matthew Schofield has been based in Berlin twice, and will eventually close it for a second time.
McClatchy kept the spark alive the last few years with a handful of staffers and an ample group of freelancers and contractors, all talented in their own right. David Enders covered Syria from the inside, being among the first to recognize that the jihadists were taking over the rebellion, and eventually winning a staff assignment (and a share of a Polk). Mitchell Prothero stepped in ably after David, and was willing to move to Irbil when the Islamic State captured Mosul. Others: Sheera Frenkel, Daniella Cheslow and Joel Greenberg from Israel, Adam Baron from Yemen, Alan Boswell from South Sudan and Nairobi, Jon Stephenson in Kabul, Saeed Shah and Tom Hussain in Islamabad.
There were many firsts, but some I think of often: Nancy Youssef was first to report that there had been no demonstration outside the Benghazi compound, and she did so within hours of the attack; Roy Gutman was the first to raise the issue of Obama’s lack of involvement in the negotiations over leaving U.S. troops in Iraq; Tom Lasseter, with an assist from Matthew Schofield, was the first to systematically interview former Guantanamo detainees about their time there, and David Enders reported in 2012 that al Qaida’s Nusra Front could be found at the fore of many key rebel victories in Syria.
I’m sorry to see that Miami Herald plaque disappear from that door in Beijing, but glad to have been a part of it.