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Little Bunch of Madmen: Elements of Global Reporting"A Correspondent's Field Manual; A Reader's Guide to Real News"
That's how veteran editor/correspondent Mort Rosenblum describes his compendium of the hazards of corresponding, then and now. His work includes contributions from journalists who've been there, done that.
Old Pro, New World
By Donald Kirk
Once upon a time in a dark age only dimly remembered, we used typewriters and ran down to the cable office with our copy, breathlessly begging and sometimes bribing operators to punch it out before all the other junk on the pile. In Jakarta in 1965, I told a guy behind the desk laboriously counting the words that he could save time by estimating the word count and then doubling it. I'd be glad to pay, but he persisted in counting. Later, I found his supervisor and put him on the payroll – the equivalent of about twenty dollars a month. He came around to my place regularly. We sipped tea. I gave him the dough. That way, all my copy got out fast to the three or four papers for which I was filing. Once I went to the room where half a dozen operators were punching away. My man smiled and said, "Mr. Kirk, everyone's working for you."
Nobody actually got on to my little racket at the cable office. I had to leave Indonesia, though, after The New York Times Magazine ran an enormous article by me under the headline, "Suharto Is the Name, Not Sukarno." The article had fairly insulting observations about the transition from Sukarno to Suharto in an era remembered in the film, "The Year of Living Dangerously." The authorities got me out by a familiar ruse – they just didn't renew my visa. Migrating to Saigon as the U.S. troop build-up was cresting, I filed not by cable but by telex. An operator in a cubbyhole on the main square opposite the Caravelle Hotel punched out copy that was received simultaneously at the other end. When the operator wasn't there or was busy at the other telex machine, I punched copy myself. I figured, if there was no work as a reporter, I could always get a job as a telex operator.
Those may seem like the good old days, but actually they were pretty tough. Let us not romanticize. Life got easier when papers told me to file via wire service bureaus. Both Reuters and UPI made a sideline of sending out copy for correspondents. AP did the same to a much lesser degree. I still remember the codes for filing via Reuters, "pronorlake" for the Chicago Tribune, "pronorsquare" for the New York Times, "proservob" for the Observer of London, "probosglo," "protoronglo," also "probello" for the Dallas Morning News etc. (A guy named Bello was or had been the owner.) At one point, free-lancing from Tokyo and Seoul, I was sending the same story to eight different papers, changing the coding and the top line of the copy to give the editor an impression of exclusivity. You just had to be sure the papers were in different circulation areas.
I left that life to join USA Today in its prototype phase in August 1982, a month before the paper began publication. The IT revolution was in its infancy. You wrote on huge computers at your desk on an ATEX program, then in widespread use. On early trips overseas for USA Today, I dictated by phone or sent stuff by fax. Telex and cable were history. People were beginning to file on laptops. Soon they were carrying Radio Shacks. USA Today stories were so brief, I figured why bother and preferred to dictate. There were a couple of decent editors there, but they had little to do with daily files. Basically the line editing at USA Today was about the most atrocious in the history of journalism, or at least in my experience. With the arrogance and omniscience born of their days in places like Westchester, Rochester, Monroe, La., and Salem, Ore., these people mangled and jumbled and distorted whatever you filed so it didn't matter.
My "career" with USA Today ended slightly more than eight years after it had begun with the U.S. bombing of Baghdad in the Gulf War. I was on an open line from the abandoned American embassy telling someone who posed as foreign editor that missiles were hitting targets even as we spoke. He liked to consider himself aware of foreign affairs on the basis of trips as a tourist to Europe. Having never written a story with a foreign dateline, much less come close to a war, he didn't believe me when I told him what was happening. There was no point in dealing with editors like that.
After I had left to work on a book, USA Today paid an embarrassing price for its stupidity. Editors whom I had known to be dolts built up a young reporter named Jack Kelley as if he were the most remarkable correspondent anyone had seen. It should not have taken much perception to see that a lot of his stuff was more fiction than fact, but these deskbound ignoramuses lacked the perception, the background, the intellect to figure that out. The paper even nominated him for a Pulitzer. As Jack's stories, from Moscow to the Middle East, grew ever more absurd, someone had to investigate and reveal they were made up. The image of USA Today has never quite recovered from the Jack Kelley case, a classic in journalistic scam artistry. Jack, however, was not the worst sinner. He was a genial fellow, with a ready, ingratiating smile. Far more to blame than he were the idiots who promoted him to his great, if untrue, "exclusives" in the first place.
When I got back to reporting more or less full-time from overseas, after writing a couple of books, I discovered the rules of the game had changed. The papers for which I had once filed reams were no longer taking much if anything. They were on their way to getting rid of their few correspondents and slashing news space. A whole new genre of foreign news reporting was gaining ascendancy. With the rise of Bloomberg and Reuters financial, legions of correspondents transcribed briefings, corporate reports, luncheon speeches and product announcements. Some of them were good but the majority were glorified stenographers who rarely questioned much. The name of the game was to cultivate your contacts and repeat some company's line.
The advent of the internet made filing infinitely easier but also carried a downside. Just about everything you wrote, when published, was visible to just about everyone else. After finishing a book, I wrote for several years for the International Herald Tribune and then, when the New York Times took over the IHT, for the Times as well. No way could you send the same story to half a dozen other papers. Ditto the Christian Science Monitor, for which I've been filing for the past few years. The latter, having ceased to print a daily paper, takes about as much for its website as it ever did for print, but you don't think of sending the same story elsewhere. Not that others would be interested. The papers for which I once wrote, ranging from the Chicago Tribune, which I served as a staff correspondent for five years, to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Atlanta Constitution, Newsday, the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe, the Toronto Globe and Mail and a few others, were getting out of foreign news. These days, if not on life support, they're gasping for air.
Then there are op-eds. They don't pay a lot, but if you don't mind expressing views about topics on which you're supposed to be writing dispassionately for others, they're worth a shot. Beware, though, of the ultimate indignity, the propensity of certain op-ed editors not to pay. Some of these characters think the psychic reward of sounding off on their pages is payment enough. Try asking them if they'd edit just for the thrill of making the masthead. Correspondents endure ups and downs, highs and lows. One need only do battle with the editor who thinks it's an honor to get published for nothing to know what it's like at the bottom of the food chain.
May 23, 1969 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD- SENATE 13609
[From the Washington Evening Star,
Apr. 30, 1969]
NEW CHARTER A PAEAN TO MAO
(By Donald Kirk)
HONG KONG.-The new constitution of the Chinese Communist party epitomizes thevast changes that have shaken Ohina since the previous constitution was adopted 13 years ago.
"The Communist party of China takes Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought as the theoretical basis guiding its thinking," proclaims the constitution adopted this month in Peking by the 9th Congress of the party. "Mao Tsetung's thought ls MarxismLeninism of the era in which imperialism is heading for total collapse and socialism is advancing to worldwide victory."
Never before the 9th Cngress, analysts here said, had "Mao Tse-tung's thought" been elevated to the level of "MarxismLeninism,"embodying the most sacred dog- mas of the Communist movement.
ALL HONOR TO MAO
The new constitution, in fact, appears to be a paean to Mao, the "great helmsman" who has guided his troubled country through three years of turmoil optimistically described as "the Great Cultural Revolution."
It is not really a legal document, but a series of slogans and catchwords aimed at uniting and galvanizing the populace behind Chairman Mao.
The constitution contrasts completely with its predecessor, whose 60 articles set forth literal rules for guiding the party and did not mention Mao.
Indeed the 1956 constitution opposed the kind of personality worship 1n which Mao has immersed himself throughout the "cultural revolution."
DRAFTED BY MAO'S FOES
The reason for the neglect of Mao in the old constitution was that the 8th Party Congress which adopted it was dominated by the men who later merged as Mao's most bitter foes, former Chief of State Liu Shao-chi and the ex-party secretary, Teng Hstao-peng.
In 1956, one of the best years for China economically, the country was definitely headed on a pragmatic if not "revisionist" course. Mao was not prepared 13 years ago to re- taliate directly against Liu, but he revealed his own penchant for radical idealism by launching the "great leap forward" in 1958.
After the "leap" proved a failure, Mao began to turn on Liu and eventually mustered the support that enabled him not only to oust the chief of state, but also to produce a constitution that defied his own figure.
THEORY, PRACTICE HELD LINKED
"Comrade Mao Tse-Tung has integrated the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism With the concrete practice of revolution," says the new constitution, reflecting the purges that eliminated not only Liu and Teng but also two-thirds of the party central committee produced by the 8th Congress as well as thousands of other "power-holders" 1n all
phases of national life. · Perhaps the single most unusual feature of the new constitution is that it attempts to insure the continuity of the ideals of Mao by proclaiming his own handpicked successor, Lin Piao, who, it says, "has consistently held high the great Red banner of Mao Tsetung's thought and has most loyally and resolutely carried out and defended Comrade Mao Tse-tung's proletarian revolutionary line."
Even while formalizing as law the unprecedented adulation for Mao, however, the constitution also indicates some of the problems now besetting the country. While calling for"unified discipline" in the party, for instance,it also states that "party members have the right to criticize party organizations and leading members at all levels and make proposals to them up to and including the central committee and the chairman of the central committee."
COULD CREATE CONFUSION
Analysts here believe these provisions are designed to give the top leadership of the party more authority on a local level. At the same time, the effect of the provisions could be to create more nationwide confusion and lack of discipline.
In any case, the constitution, for all its brave slogans, is a vaguely worded document designed, perhaps, to please as many of China's diverse elements as possible.
In this respect it may reflect the bitterness created by the "cultural revolution and the desire for moderation and unity."
The constitution, in fact, probably represents the same kind of compromising that has enabled the army to gain more control than ever before on the new central committee and politburo.
Although it would seem to give the party more scope than ever, it carefully calls on politburo leaders to set up "a number of necessary organs, which are compact and efficient," to "attend to the day-to-day work of the party, the government and the army in a centralized way."
The mention of party, government, and army on the same level suggests an attempt at integrating overlapping functions of these organizations and perhaps even reducing the party's power.
The army almost certainly would be the only organization capable of enforcing this kind of reform. Thus the constitution, although it might at first appear to represent an overwhelming personal triumph for Mao, carries in it the seeds for still more changes.
This time, however, the military leaders in power hope to effect the changes in an atmosphere of moderation and efficiency all in the name, of course, of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.
Topic: North Korea
Donald Kirk, based in Washington, first visited Seoul in 1972 as Far East correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and has covered major events in Korea from the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979 and the Kwangju revolt in 1980 to every presidential election since adoption of the “democracy constitution” in 1987. He has visited North Korea nine times.
From 1988 to 1994, he focused on business, economics and labor, writing Korean Dynasty: Hyundai and Chung Ju Yung, a critical study of Hyundai, Korea’s largest chaebol, and its founder. Back again in Seoul, he wrote Korean Crisis: Unraveling of the Miracle in the IMF Era, published in 2000. After that, he worked on Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine, published in hardcover in 2009 and again in paperback in 2011.
After reporting from Indonesia in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” 1965-1966, Don based in Saigon and Hong Kong during the Vietnam War. He produced two books from that period, Wider War: The Struggle for Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, 1971, and Tell it to the Dead, published in 1975, after the fall of the U.S.-backed regimes in Indochina, and again, updated and enlarged, in 1996. Two of his articles, "Who Wants To Be the Last American Killed in Vietnam?" (The New York Times Magazine, August 1971), and "I watched them saw him 3 days" (Chicago Tribune, July 1974), the story of a Khmer Rouge execution, appear in Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969-1975, Library of America, NY.
Don has been a reporter beginning in school and college and then in Chicago and New York before moving on to Asia. Returning to the U.S. in 1982 after covering the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Don spent eight years at USA Today as an editor and correspondent in Washington and abroad from the paper’s start-up through the 1990-1991 Gulf War, which he witnessed from Baghdad. Don revisited Baghdad for several months in 2004, writing magazine articles and filing for CBS. In Seoul, he continues to focus on the looming crisis on the Korean peninsula.
Awards and Grants
In the 1960s and 1970s, Don wrote from Southeast Asia for The New York Times Magazine, The New Leader and The Reporter, among others, winning George Polk, Overseas Press Club and Edward Scott Beck awards and three OPC citations for articles in The New York Times Magazine from Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia. With the Chicago Sun-Times in the early '60s, he received the Chicago Newspaper Guild’s page-one award for a first-person account of a holdup.
Don spent most of 2013 as a Fulbright-Nehru senior research scholar, affiliated with the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. (That was half a century after he first went to India as a junior Fulbright scholar in 1962.) He spent a month in Islamabad in early 2015 in the Fulbright regional specialist program.
Over the years he's been a Ford fellow, advanced international reporting, Columbia, 1964-1965; Edward R. Murrow fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, 1974-1975, at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School; visiting fellow, Southeast Asia program, Cornell, 1986-1988, and Fulbright senior scholar, Manila, 1995-1996, researching Looted: the Philippines After the Bases, 1998. A graduate of Princeton, he holds a master’s in international relations from the University of Chicago and the honorary degree of doctor of letters for "scholarly attainments and distinguished service" from the University of Maryland University College.
©DON KIRK PHOTOS
CARL ROBINSON PHOTO
PHIL PENDRY PHOTO
©DON KIRK PHOTOS
©CHANG SUNG HEE PHOTOS