- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Global network, local connections

In its early years, The Washington Times established foreign bureaus in a few countries. Two years later came a major expansion that brought the total to 11 bureaus in such nations as Britain, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Spain, Switzerland and Canada.
The Times hired several veteran correspondents to work in the bureaus, including Peter Younghusband in South Africa and Andrew Borowiec, a longtime Associated Press reporter, in Geneva. Editors sent young but enthusiastic reporters to other bureaus, giving rise to what some staffers playfully called the "Children's Crusade."
Some of the more notable reporting of that era came from Glenn Garvin, who covered the wars in Central America from his post in Costa Rica and later went on to write a book about his adventures, "Every Contra Had His Own Gringo."
Over the years, The Times tried a different tack, closing its foreign bureaus in favor of building a network of dependable free-lance correspondents around the world.
Mr. Borowiec was transferred back to Washington after covering the collapse of communism across Central Europe in 1989. One of his last big stories in the Geneva bureau was the summary execution that Christmas of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Mr. Borowiec exercised considerable subterfuge to get past the border guards and enter Romania for that story.
Washington-based diplomats were delighted in 1993 when we introduced both the Briefing Page, covering a different region of the world each day, and Embassy Row, James Morrison's daily column about their activities. Word spread quickly in that small community, and within weeks The Times was being read with new appreciation at every embassy in the city a pattern that has paid off in ready access to diplomatic sources for stories.
Such changes, combined with Betsy Pisik's coverage of the United Nations in New York and the many world exclusives by Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave and national-security reporter Bill Gertz, raised The Times' profile around the world. Where once our reporters sometimes would be confused with scribes for The Washington Post or the New York Times when traveling abroad, now they found instant recognition in foreign capitals.
When I was introduced to the Israeli chiefs of armed forces and military intelligence during a tour of the Middle East in 1999, both men slapped their foreheads and said: "The Washington Times. Bill Gertz. He has caused us more problems."
The foreign desk adopted a deliberate strategy of building on that base, seeking out stories that would appeal to the diplomats, think tanks, university professors and officials at the State Department, Pentagon and Congress. Tens of thousands of foreign-policy professionals live and work in the Washington area, and we set out to make them our audience.
The strategy resulted in excellent access not only to the foreign dignitaries who each week parade through Washington, but to top foreign officials when our reporters travel abroad. Numerous ambassadors have told editors that they got into the habit of reading The Times in the mornings before turning to The Post and the "other" Times (in New York).
The Times dispatched staff reporters to the scene virtually every time Americans were sent into a potential combat situation abroad. Most recently, Willis Witter, deputy foreign editor, spent 10 weeks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Among the most enterprising was a national reporter, Michael Hedges, who traveled overland across three countries to cover the military action to arrest Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Mr. Hedges later was our frontline reporter during the Persian Gulf war. He bonded with the American forces, largely because of his prowess on the basketball court.
Mr. Hedges made his way into a press pool that placed him aboard a U.S. tank for the decisive sweep around the Iraqis' western flank that decided the war. He also created an ethics dilemma when he filed a report describing how U.S. troops allowed him to fire an artillery piece aimed at an Iraqi target. We decided not to publish the story.
Our free-lance correspondents became increasingly important. Today, we have a network of more than 50 correspondents filing from places as varied as China, Kazakhstan, Israel and South Africa.
Their enterprise and enthusiasm is typified by John Jennings, who traveled to Afghanistan at his own expense armed only with a letter of introduction from The Times. He somehow made his way to the front lines about 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. Mr. Jennings hooked up as an informal translator for BBC, which lent him the use of a satellite phone to file stories to us. He accompanied the vanguard of Northern Alliance forces into Kabul just hours after the Taliban fled.
David Jones, foreign editor

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