A tribute to the shuttered McClatchy Beijing bureau — and the former Knight-Ridder international reporters

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.

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Stuart Leavenworth: The last Beijing bureau chief

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:

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– 30 –

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.


The big announcement: How the Twittersphere reacted to my new job in China

tsinghua

Tsinghua, here I come! (University web site)

People who know me well know that I don’t possess one of the larger egos in American journalism. So I’m a tad apologetic for the blatant boosterism that follows. But I wanted to do it to thank all of my friends and the public officials who took to social media to respond to this announcement.

The overwhelming — and rapid — response reminded me of the power of social media. Twitter and Facebook have transformed our means of communication in just a few years. (Six years ago, when I left Business Week for the Houston Chronicle, I had to send emails to all of my friends just to let them know what had happened.)

Just like we do on Texas on the Potomac, I’ll start with Capitol Hill reaction:

Even former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who’s had to deal with my questions since my days as a young pup at the Dallas Times Herald, weighed in:

In the polarized American political world, there was bipartisan agreement — for once.

Reaction poured in from around the world, Helsinki to Beirut to Shanghai:

In Austin and Manhattan journalism circles, disbelief:

It was nice to hear from my colleagues:

Yes, Melissa. Definitely.

I’m especially grateful for the kind words from my former interns who have made me proud over the past six years.

And I’ll leave you with the words of that ancient Chinese philosopher Wayne Slater:


Welcome to RickDunhamBlog.com!

Nearly six years after creating Texas on the Potomac — the popular political blog of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, I am launching my own personal blog.

I will periodically offer insight, news and analysis on topics I find interesting. I’ll also post multimedia tips for aspiring journalists and mid-career professionals alike. And I’ll experiment with innovative story-telling techniques.

Feel free to interact and send ideas for posts.

Discussing 2012 election results on a Capitol Hill panel.

Discussing 2012 election results on a Capitol Hill panel.

I’ll start with the basic biography:

I’m a veteran political journalist and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the use of social media for journalism and community-building. I’ve been Washington bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle since 2007 and also served as Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau chief from 2009 to 2012.

I am the creator and chief author of the popular political blog “Texas on the Potomac” on chron.com and mysanantonio.com. I was the leading content provider for Perry Presidential, an award-winning web site dedicated to comprehensive coverage and analysis of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign.

“First, readers were lucky to have a newspaper willing to dedicate the staff to cover Perry’s bid as an intensely local story,” the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors wrote in the 2013 award explanation. “Just as important, the overall level of work was superb.”

(Twitter: @RickDunham)

From 1992 to July 2007, I was the national political correspondent for Business Week magazine, covering the White House, Congress, economic issues, and political and policy trends.

I earlier spent seven years in the Washington bureau of the Dallas Times Herald as a national political reporter, congressional correspondent and Supreme Court correspondent. During my 13 years at the Dallas Times Herald, I also was a city desk reporter in Dallas and a correspondent in the Austin bureau, where I covered state government, the Texas Legislature, the state budget, education and Texas politics.

I have offered political analysis on ABC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, the PBS News Hour and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. I also have appeared on C-SPAN, the BBC, National Public Radio, ABC Radio, Fox News Channel and numerous radio stations and networks.

From 2005 to 2009, I wrote a “Letter from America” column for the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti explaining U.S. politics and culture to an international audience.

A former president of both the National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the educational and charitable arm of the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, I try to remain on the cutting edge of journalism technology and training. I have taught classes and hosted panel discussions on journalism skills, web content, social media and journalism ethics.

From 1999 to 2005, I was a mentor with the UNITY Mentor Program for young journalists of color, where I worked one-on-one with young journalists and taught workshops on journalism skills. I have lectured to classes at institutions including Texas A&M University, American University, Boston University, the University of Alabama, Towson State University, Carleton College and Flagler College.

I also have written for the Philadelphia Inquirer (as University of Pennsylvania stringer) and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (as a summer intern), and have contributed to three books (“The Founding City,” Chilton Books, 1976, “The Handbook of Campaign Spending,” Congressional Quarterly Press, 1992, and “The Almanac of the Unelected,” Bernan Press, 2006). I wrote a new foreword to the 60th anniversary edition of my grandfather Barrows Dunham’s classic philosophy book, “Man against Myth,” which was republished in 2007.

I have served on the steering committee of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press since 1999 and am a former chairman of the steering committee.

From 1992 to 1999, I served on the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents, which oversees the press galleries on Capitol Hill for more than 2,000 news magazine and newsletter correspondents. As Executive Committee chairman from 1995 to 1997, I helped to coordinate press logistics for the national conventions and presidential inauguration.I am a graduate of Central High School in Philadelphia (233rd class) and hold B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from the University of Pennsylvania. My wife, Pam Tobey, is a graphic artist at the Washington Post.