Afghanistan virtually a local story
By John Simonds
Advertiser Reader Representative
"Afghanistanism" was a term used in the past to poke fun at newspapers whose editorial voices spoke forcefully about distant problems while soft-pedaling or ignoring those close to home.
That label has faded from the list of insults with an ironic twist. A shrinking of the world that started long before Sept. 11 has jolted the people and problems of South Asia out of obscurity and closer to everyone's back yard.
Today, Afghanistan is virtually a local story, with full pages devoted nearly every day in papers like The Advertiser to coverage of events related to the war against terror: the bombing, military movements, political changes inside the homeland of the fleeing Taliban and their killer guests. An A5 photo Friday of Kabul residents milling about a bomb-wrecked vehicle had a small-town Main Street look about it.
Afghanistan seems less synonymous with isolation. Landlocked, its religious/cultural cross winds are topics of articles, columns, cartoons and photos. President Bush has said he hopes to avoid "nation-building" in Afghanistan, but newspapers already have built greater awareness of it for their readers.
As with South Asia in the 1960s and '70s and the Balkans in the 1990s, Western readers have played catch-up to learn parts of the world they had viewed as too far away to concern anyone but Foreign Service pros and stamp collectors.
A review of Advertiser articles since the mid-'90s shows frequent reports on the civil strife and takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, who now have been dislodged from the capital.
Newspapers that provided space for analyses and dispatches about life in distant countries seem to have been right all along, reflecting priorities of concern for world situations that have since hit the nation's doorstep.
In its coverage of the world, The Advertiser receives news reports from a range of newspapers and news services the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Knight Ridder News Service, Gannett News Service, and reports of individual newspapers that may be members of those groups. A caller asked how The Advertiser was able to gather dispatches from correspondents of so many newspapers. The news services organize the reports from their affiliated papers and distribute the articles electronically to subscribing media organizations.
News-desk copy editors use their computer keyboards and screens to scroll through lists of articles described each day in brief summaries called "budgets." These serve as menus from which editors select articles for the main news pages. The process often involves comparison shopping by the news editor.
Advertiser editorial pages also have spotlighted Afghanistan, with nationally syndicated and individual viewpoint columns, letters from readers and locally written editorials on the war and related matters.
"When I took this job, I said I thought the mission was to write aggressively about local issues and those of Asia and the Pacific region. Now I realize we should have been looking even farther afield than that," says Jerry Burris, editor of The Advertiser's editorial pages since 1993.
"I think all of us will admit we didn't have a lot of knowledge of Afghanistan before this began."
Scholars and specialists on the area may not consider locally-written editorials on foreign issues to be sufficient on the fine points, Burris agrees, "but we want to reach readers who may not necessarily be experts."
Responsive newspapers strive for a sensible mix in covering and commenting on world, as well as local, issues, though in earlier decades others opted for local over world news. The Advertiser pursues both global and regional issues in its editorials.
"We're still mostly local in our editorials," says Burris. "You can read opinions about the rest of the world in other places. But the only place you can read about Hawai'i is here."
John Simonds, The Advertiser's reader representative, can be reached at email@example.com or 525-8033.