- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Probing questions

Managing Editor Fran Coombs and I played host on Thursday to a group of 13 journalists from Eastern Europe, who are visiting the United States on a program sponsored by the State Department.

Such tours are designed to foster better understanding of American practices and values in the rest of the world, and we always make every effort to cooperate. But we also benefit from their questions, which often force us to think more deeply about how we practice journalism.

Here are a few of their questions and how we answered them:

Question: You say you think of yourselves as a national newspaper, but you are only distributed around Washington. How is that?

Answer: The daily newspaper is distributed only within 50 to 100 miles around Washington, but we also have a weekly edition which is mailed out around the country and has about as large a circulation as the daily paper. We have a Web site which is read by people all over the country and around the world. And because we are in Washington, our reporting is amplified by the national and international media. This city has hundreds of reporters from all around the United States and the rest of the world. When we break an exclusive story, these reporters see it and try to duplicate it or quote from it, saying, “The Washington Times reported such and such.”

Q: American newspapers seem to have very little international news. Why is that?

A: A few newspapers, like the New York Times, The Washington Post and ours, give substantial space to international news because there is a large readership for that in Washington. But in other parts of the country, it is true, world news gets as little as half a page a day.

I think this is largely because Americans feel insulated from the rest of the world by their own military power and by the fact they are surrounded by two great oceans and two nonthreatening neighbors. So they don’t see what happens elsewhere as affecting their lives. It’s also because, until recently, it was not possible in a country this size to have national newspapers; it takes three days to drive a truck from New York to California. So every city had its own newspapers with the focus on local news.

Q: Who decides the newspaper’s editorial line? The owners?

A: The owners have said they want a conservative editorial page, but that is their only involvement. The editor in chief hires the editorial page editor, who reports to him. The editorial page editor meets with his own staff of editorial writers, and they decide what they want to write. The editor in chief checks it over once a day and occasionally will ask them to make a point stronger or change something. But more than 90 percent of the content comes from the editorial page staff themselves.

Q: Would you say there is panic in the newspaper world about declining circulation?

A: Yes. When we attend conferences of newspaper executives, they are depressed and worried about the future of the business. The recent sale of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain added to the gloomy atmosphere. There is a sense that newspaper circulations are falling and they can’t seem to stop it, although circulation at The Washington Times is stable. Newspapers are making more money from their Web sites, but not enough to cover the size of newsroom staffs they have now. There is also a consolidation going on that is taking away the individuality of newspapers. As big chains buy up newspapers, they are losing their personality.

Q: What will happen to your newspaper if a Democrat becomes president?

A: That doesn’t worry us at all. When President Clinton won in 1992, some people said it was all over for us. But in fact it was a very good time for us. We became the opposition paper in Washington, and we were breaking stories about the Clinton administration every day.

• David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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