- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

UPI on Page 1
For those old-timers including this writer who worked for United Press International in its heyday and still think fondly of their days as "Unipressers," there was something satisfying about seeing UPI bylines on a couple of front-page stories last week.
The first was a remarkable story, unseen anywhere else to my knowledge, reporting that the government of Peru had apologized for the forced sterilization of more than 200,000 Indian women during the rule of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori. The story said the program was so widespread that some Andean ethnic groups are at risk of extinction.
The second story, from Seoul, quoted South Korean government officials and analysts as saying North Korea has embarked on a series of economic reforms that strongly suggest the North is attempting the kind of market-based economic revival undertaken by China in the 1980s.
Elements of this story had appeared in the New York Times the previous Saturday as well as in the Financial Times of London, but reporter Jong-Heon Lee made a more persuasive case that something important was happening with specific details about the reforms and comments from numerous officials and academics.
We had UPI on our inside pages as well. The agency's report from Brussels on a magazine interview with British Prime Minister Tony Blair reported better than any other wire story I saw on Mr. Blair's strong defense of the U.S. role in the world and his call for European leaders to stop whining about American dominance. And we carried Katherine Arms' report from Hong Kong on a Chinese television report that sought specifically to link Uighur separatists in western China to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
It was not so long ago that we couldn't find anything on the UPI wire that we wanted to print, even when we went looking for it. At one point in the 1990s we were given the service for free but eventually asked them to remove it because we found it wasn't worth the time it took to read.
That was the low ebb for a once-proud news agency that was the first to report the end of World War II, beat the Associated Press by several minutes on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and served as the training ground for generations of great journalists, including Walter Cronkite.

Back from the grave
The long decline began with the sale of the service in the early 1980s by the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, which had founded it decades before. A succession of owners steadily ran it into the ground, selling off potential profit centers such as its historically important photo archive just to meet the payroll, placing it in Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice.
As revenues declined, each new owner laid off staff. That reduced the quality of coverage, and more newspapers canceled the service, reducing revenues further. By the late 1990s, all that remained was a handful of dispirited journalists putting out a report that virtually no one read.
The turn for the better came with the purchase of the agency in 2000 by News World Communications Inc., the parent company of The Washington Times Corp.
New funding was made available and, under the direction of former Washington Times Editor in Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave, highly regarded journalists were recruited to run it, including John O'Sullivan of the National Review and Canada's National Post, Martin Walker of the London Guardian and Roland Flamini from Time magazine.
Staffing at the headquarters bureau in Washington has gone from a low of 38 persons to about 75 with a few slots still to fill, and a worldwide network of correspondents has been rebuilt. Most of the latter work on a free-lance basis, but they now get paid on time, with an obvious impact on morale.
With its newspaper base largely gone, the new UPI focused on producing a service for Internet clients, with heavy coverage of science, business and lifestyle matters. Many of those clients disappeared with the dot-com collapse, but Mr. O'Sullivan, the editor in chief, says they are well positioned to take advantage of the recovery.
Meanwhile, they are working hard to restore the service for newspapers, building on a base of foreign newspapers, especially in Asia, and of weekly papers in the United States.
For The Washington Times, I hope, this means they will become increasingly important as a source of well-reported foreign stories that do not appear on other news services and therefore are not available to our competitors.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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