War Is Hell - and Boring As Hell, Too

Bosnians die. Chechnyans die. Herald honchos yawn.

And then he closed with a few suggestions clearly directed at Clifton. The paper, he said, needed to "find editors who are not callous, shallow, or parochial, who don't dismiss readers interested in foreign news as 'high-minded liberals with a world view,' and who don't think the New York Times is boring." The Herald, Tamayo wrote, also needed to "find editors who can get excited about foreign news and transmit that excitement to readers," and to "find editors who are as smart as our readers."

The sharp tone of Tamayo's response was in keeping with his management style, which some reporters have found abrasive. But other staffers note that personalities are irrelevant to the larger questions raised by paper's recent editorial retrenchment. "Interestingly, the Herald's debate about Bosnia coverage is a good illustration of what newspapers lose when important regions of the world are 'left to the wires,' as we have done in Europe," wrote reporter Peter Slevin in yet another e-mail response. "Absent a knowledgeable correspondent who can do quick analysis or a timely take-out -- and whose copy will be well-used because the Herald has a stake in it -- the Herald is left to other devices. That means cobbling together coverage written for wire services and newspapers with different mandates and readerships.

"Is there really all that much mystery to defining the Herald's coverage?" asked Slevin, who spent eight years reporting from London and Berlin. "Years ago this newspaper developed a reputation for choosing its targets and weighing in at defining moments on big stories. Bosnia should be no exception, whether or not we deploy our own staff to the front lines. News should be noted. Developments should be explained. Turning points should be explored. Images should be painted in words and colors. Stories should be well told. That is one thing that newspapers can do well and television does rarely.

"And if a reader is 'callous, shallow, parochial, and maybe even stupid' -- and admits it -- I'm not sure we should be writing our stories with him in mind! Even if he does admit that he is 'embarrassed' by it."

Mark Seibel, the newspaper's foreign editor from 1984 to 1991, complained in his own electronic memo prior to Tamayo's resignation that the Herald relies too much on the New York Times to signal what is or is not newsworthy. "That's letting their tail wag our dog," he wrote.

"We need to be ambitious in our thinking -- every single day," Seibel argued. "And we need to drive hard, every single day, on every single story, to make sure our ambitions become reality. It is too easy to blame a lack of resources or lack of space for lack of good coverage. It becomes an excuse for not using our resources as well as we can, for not thinking as deeply as we are able, to cover what is important to our readers.

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