Are wire services impractical investments for newspapers?

Here’s a headline from an article from the International Herlad Tribune that appeared in the Boston Globe today:

“Merkel aloof as public questions troop presence in Afghanistan” (I think it was originally “Merkel aloof as public wavers on Afghanistan” when I saw it in print, but they must have tweaked it for the Web.)

I majored in German in college, so when I saw the headline while reading the Globe this morning, I recognized the German chancellor’s name and dove right in. Then I asked myself, “Is Angela Merkel a household name to the average reader of the Boston Globe?” (Note: I’m not asking if her name “should be,” I’m simply asking if she is). I plan on polling a few of the people I’m staying with out here in Boston, a group of students getting their master’s of education at Boston College, and see what they say. But I think not.

And that brings me to the question.

Are wire services simply impractical for the paper version of the newspaper?

The article in question was wire copy from the International Herald Tribune. It’s a good piece of news, and actually quite interesting if you follow German politics and foreign policy. But I don’t think it serves the average citizen of Boston much, if at all. For one thing, it’s word for word the same article the IHT ran. Now, I’m not saying that is remarkable. Far from it, it has become standard for a paper to plug its pages with wire copy to fill its paper, without having the time or resources to position it locally by making an extra phone call.

And I’m not saying the news is unimportant. If anything, I think it is incumbent on the United States and its citizens to analyze the foreign policy of our European neighbors.

But – and here’s the thing – is it relevant to the reader?

I’d say no.

From the reader’s point of view, no where in the article am I told why this is important to me. The story hasn’t even been localized to the United States, let alone the Boston area. For those who herald the future of newspapers as excelling at local coverage, this ain’t it.

Anyone else have a different take on this? Anyone from the Globe want to weigh in on the editorial decision to run it without additional reporting? Or are the foreign policy issues of Germany that important to the Boston area?

3 thoughts on “Are wire services impractical investments for newspapers?

  1. Wow, I have to disagree with you here. I think local coverage is extremely important but knowing what’s going on in the world is also important – and every country I’ve been to outside the U.S. has much more thorough international coverage than we do.

    As to relevance, this isn’t about a local German issue – this is about an ongoing war that the United States is also involved in. The article shows that these issues are not just going on in the U.S. but in other places as well. Does the article spell out this connection? No, but do we really need it to? Can’t editors just assume we’re smart enough to draw our own conclusions? If we’re not interested, we don’t have to read the article.

    I would guess that few readers of the Boston Globe also subscribe to the IHT so giving them access to this article is not redundant; and if they have read it already — again, they can choose to skip it.

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  2. First of all, good points. It is incredibly important to have a grasp of German, and larger European, attitudes towards any war in which we’re involved. And you’re right, the average reader is smart enough to make the connection.

    But I’m still unconvinced the article, without any touch from the Globe, deserves print space, and here’s why.

    Readers can get their news anywhere. When reading the Boston Globe, they have a limited amount of time and read it for a specific purpose. Are many of them going to be interested in an article written for an international audience, where the editors have literally done nothing to focus it on Boston, or the United States in general? Even rewriting the headline, or giving some comment to relate the growing discontent in Germany over their presence in Afghanistan with the waning American support for our oversea endeavors, would go a long way.

    In my opinion, to thrive newspapers need to focus on what they do best. I don’t think that slapping some unedited wire copy serves readers very well.

    Finally, to your points: “If we’re not interested, we don’t have to read the article” and “they can choose to skip it.” I think most readers will skip it. And as newspapers lose advertising, cut staff and shrink their news holes, I think (and hope) “skippable” news articles will be the first to go, rather than in depth local coverage that no other news organization besides a local paper can do.

    And this all brings up an interesting point (and one I hadn’t thought of addressing). What is a local newspaper’s role in presenting international coverage? Especially one the size of the Globe.

    I’d be interested to hear your opinion on that, as someone who has lived and written in another country (as I know you have because I know you). Again, thanks for the insights.

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  3. UPDATE

    I shared the above anecdote with a group of editors, publishers, reporters, ad sales reps, and marketers at the Inland Press Association annual conference in Chicago this morning. One interesting point made by a gentleman in the audience:

    Many newspaper readers (and this man counted himself as one of them) still read the newspaper to “be surprised” as he put it, by what is going on in the world around him that he didn’t know of.

    That’s a valid point, and one I didn’t have a chance to respond to at the time. I count myself as a someone who enjoys reading newspapers, and I relate with his sentiment about being surprised.

    Ultimately, however, I’ll go back to my original point, which I perhaps did not express adequately this morning. With only a little additional amount of work, I think the article in debate could be extremely relevant to a Boston, or U.S.-based community. I simply argued that without that little bit extra, it’s just taking up paper and ink in a shrinking news hole.

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