Media Moves To Cover War Without Front

By: Todd Shields and Joe Strupp

Scott Baldauf planned to spend last week at a retreat in Moscow for The Christian Science Monitor‘s foreign correspondents. But that was before the Boston-based Monitor began shuffling staff to deal with the sprawling aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and outside Washington. Baldauf, 36, went to Pakistan, where he is preparing to cover America’s war on terror.

“It would have been nice to go to Moscow and talk about new ideas,” Baldauf said from a rooming house in Islamabad, Pakistan. “But given a choice between a conference and the biggest news story of the century, I’ll take this.” (He is one of four Monitor correspondents reassigned since Sept. 11.)

The same calculation was made by many others. With little hesitation, those who head foreign coverage for U.S. papers have decided to pour resources into the story that may well define our times. The cost is high, including $300 visas to Central Asian republics, as well as more-predictable charges for transoceanic airline flights, taxis, and fees to “expedite” official papers.

Expenses will only mount. Already editors are lining up more staffers for possible rotations overseas. Yet, amid all the heavy spending, newspapers remain focused on pursuing the story rather than protecting the bottom line. “We haven’t calculated it,” said Clark Hoyt, Washington editor for Knight Ridder. “But our CEO has told us we need to spend what it takes to cover the story.”

Hoyt’s bureau assumed direction of the story overseas for Knight Ridder’s 32 daily newspapers. Drawing upon staff from The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Detroit Free Press, The Miami Herald, and the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, along with overseas correspondents who report to Washington, Knight Ridder positioned reporters and photographers in Islamabad, Jerusalem, and Cairo, Egypt, as well as Bahrain, Germany, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Gannett Co. Inc.’s flagship USA Today sent reporters to Europe and Central Asia from Mexico, Chicago, and its Arlington, Va., headquarters, said Deputy Managing Editor Mindy Fetterman.

The Associated Press added “dozens” to the large contingent it normally has in place in the Middle East and Central Asia, said Deputy Managing Editor Tom Kent, who added, “We’re spending what we need to cover the story,” Kent said.

For The Wall Street Journal, 30 to 40 reporters are covering the overseas story, with half a dozen assigned to Germany’s investigation into possible terrorist activities, said Assistant Foreign Editor Bill Spindle.

The Washington Post sent a reporter to northern Afghanistan, three reporters to Pakistan, and others to Jordan, the Philippines, and Yemen, said Assistant Managing Editor Phil Bennett. “We’re still waiting, largely,” he said. “We also anticipate, over the next year, we’re going to have to deploy in a whole bunch of places. It won’t be just an Afghanistan story.”

The New York Times has moved seven reporters to Central Asia and the Middle East, including one in Afghanistan. At The Sun in Baltimore, three of its five foreign correspondents have been shifted to cover the next military move, said Foreign Editor Robert Ruby. And The Boston Globe reshuffled four of its six foreign correspondents, said Foreign Editor Nils Bruzelius.

The 18-daily Cox Newspapers Inc. chain sent its Moscow reporter and a Latin America reporter to Pakistan, its Israel reporter to neighboring Jordan, and an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter to Brussels, Belgium, said Cox Foreign Editor Chuck Holmes. The cost? “We’ve gotten signals from on high: We want to be in the game,” Holmes said. “Nobody’s talked about turning off the spigot.”

Deployment plans remain fluid, with editors ready to reassign reporters as the story shifts. “So much depends on when the shooting starts, who shoots back, and how the coalition holds together,” said the Globe‘s Bruzelius. “It’s hard to plan for.”

To keep a correspondent in the field easily can entail several hundred dollars a day in basic expenses, such as a hotel room, telephone time, and meals, said Philadelphia Inquirer Foreign Editor Paul Nussbaum. For those going into Afghanistan, add in the cost of tents, sleeping bags, water bottles, and other gear. Altogether, it could cost $5,000 to $6,000 for two weeks of reporting, Nussbaum said.

And, of course, he noted: “There’s always a war penalty. The local hospitality industry quickly figures out you’ll pay whatever it takes.”

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