- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

Two abductions

While U.S. newspaper and television outlets reported in depth on the plight of kidnapped freelance reporter Jill Carroll last week, another American hostage languished in Nigeria with almost no press coverage.

U.S. oil worker Patrick Landry was one of four men abducted from an oil platform off the Nigerian coast on Jan. 11 by a little-known group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The other abductees were a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran.

The seizure of Miss Carroll had a number of compelling elements, not least the videos released to Al Jazeera by her captors and heart-rending appeals for her release from her family and employers.

But the Nigerian kidnapping had at least as much real-world significance, contributing to a reduction in Nigeria’s oil production that drove world oil prices to a four-month high.

So why the difference in coverage? Certainly American reporters and editors are interested in Miss Carroll’s fate because she is one of us, and because we all know and worry about colleagues in Iraq.

But it is also a fact — driven home to me during a year working in East Africa long ago — that coverage of any event tends to be in proportion to the number of reporters on the scene.

Iraq is full of journalists who, despite extraordinarily difficult and dangerous conditions, are scouring the country daily for fresh angles on a story that Americans have been reading daily for almost three years now.

Good American reporters in Nigeria, on the other hand, are few and far between, so there has not been much U.S.-oriented copy on that hostage crisis available to print.

The articles we have seen came largely from business reporters accustomed to writing about the oil industry, and were focused mainly on the impact of the abductions on oil prices. So what coverage we had appeared in our business section.

Combining stories

Even where good stories are available, of course, there is simply not room in the newspaper for everything we would like to publish. Typically, we have room for five or six stories on our two world pages, one or two more on the briefing page, whatever goes onto the front page, and a handful of three-paragraph “briefs.”

That’s pretty good compared to the space available for foreign news in most American newspapers. But compared to the hundreds of items offered to us every day from our reporters, freelance correspondents and the wire agencies, it’s a pittance.

One way we deal with the problem is by looking for opportunities to combine two or more stories into one. All the news from Iraq, for instance, can often be combined into a single article, wrapping together a couple of suicide bombings, an assassination or kidnapping and the latest on the negotiations among the political parties trying to form a new government.

The wire agencies routinely file such “wrap-ups” from Iraq, making it easy for us. But there are other times when a bit of creativity is required.

For several days last week, I had been seeing short items on the wires about a brewing confrontation between Israeli forces and Israeli settlers in the West Bank community of Hebron.

It was interesting, but just wasn’t cutting through the flood of other news. So I suggested to Middle East correspondent Joshua Mitnick that we combine that with an examination of how acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had handled other challenges during his first days on the job — such as a decision whether to let Palestinians vote in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Before we could do the story, a suicide bomber killed himself and injured some 30 Israelis in Tel Aviv. That became the lead of a story for Friday’s paper that looked at Mr. Olmert’s handling of a range of tough decisions last week.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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