Jim Goodsell, the longtime Latin American correspondent from the Christian Science Monitor had that great quality of being both a good reporter and a first-rate human being. I first met Jim in 1966 in the Dominican Republic in advance of that country's first post-civil war elections. I last saw Jim in mid-January 1996 when we had lunch to kick around some agenda ideas for the Fourteenth Annual Journalists and Editors Workshop. He will be missed.
Jim, as many of us dinosaurs, had grown increasingly concerned about the state of Journalism and particularly foreign reporting in the modern age. Despite the tremendous technological advances, in some ways, matters were much less complex and more straightforward 30 years or so ago. In that light, it might be more instructive attempting to predict the shape of foreign coverage into the 21st century by taking a look backwards to see how far we have come in the past three decades.
Communications were horrible 30 years ago. The main source of news into the newsroom was the teletype machine, roaring along at 60 words a minute. The same day New York Times was unavailable except for stories that moved on its wire service. Once the Sunday Times showed up in the newsroom on Tuesday. The one advantage was that you could write the same story a week after the Times had it, and no Herald reader would know the difference. United Press International was still fighting the good fight with the Associated Press. Editing was literally a cut and paste job.
The Herald did not even have a telex machine in the newsroom at that, time. The only telex machine in the building was in advertising on the second floor. A case was finally made for a newsroom telex after the shooting by the US Marines of my predecessor, Al Burt, and a Herald photographer, Doug Kennedy, during the 1965 Dominican Republic Civil War--an incident which happened 31 years ago.
Lee Winfrey, another Herald correspondent from the Washington bureau was also in the Dominican Republic. It was impossible to get a telephone call in or out of the country. Two days after the shooting, the Herald had not heard from Winfrey and details of the incident and the condition of Al and Doug remained uncertain. Editors in the newsroom were cursing Winfrey until an employee from advertising called the newsroom and said there was this long telex downstairs on the machine that they could not figure out. He thought the telex might belong to the newsroom. It did. The telex gave Winfrey's detailed account of the shooting incident. The message had been on advertising's telex machine for well over 24 hours before anyone in that department had bothered to notify the newsroom.
As an anecdotal footnote to that incident, my first trip to the Dominican Republic came just a year later and it was the one in which I met Jim Goodsell. Goodsell, myself and, Nate Miller, the Riobased correspondent for the Baltimore-Sun (who went on to become a well-known naval historian) hired a taxi and drove to Santiago to interview Antonio Guzman, Juan Bosch's vice presidential candidate in the tipcoming elections, won by Joaquin Balaguer. The taxi driver was the same one who had been driving Al Burt and Doug Kennedy when they had been shot by the Marines a year earlier.
It was an era of erratic and ulcer-inducing telephone communications. To cover a breaking foreign story by telephone was virtually impossible. Calls had to be placed through an operator and, particularly in time of crisis, telephone lines were so jammed that it often took hours to get a call through. And if it happened to be a military coup, a frequent occurrence in the 1960s, telephone lines were most likely cut.
If you were on the road, getting stories back to the Herald, was another problem. You either brought them back with you or took them to the local airport and shipped them by Pan Am Clipper cargo. When the flight arrived in Miami, someone had to go to the cargo area on the west side of the airport, pick up the package and clear it through customs. On more pressing stories, the only alternative was to file by telex, visually by punching the telex tape yourself.
The major airlines flying to Latin America then were Pan American, Braniff and Panagra. Nobody in Latin America had ever heard of American or United Airlines. And virtually every flight to South America stopped in Panama at 3:00 a.m. for a change of planes. If you needed to get a seat quickly en a sold-out Pan Am flight, you called Alice Flood at Pan Am's commercial desk.
Reporting itself was somewhat simpler. The Cold War was in full swing and the us-against-them mentality spilled over into much of the press. US officials still had substantial credibility, with the decline beginning in the late 1960s with Vietnam and accelerated by Chile and Watergate. Unlike today, women correspondents covering Latin America were a rarity. Georgia Anne "Geegee" Geyer is the only one I can recall, writing from Peru for the Chicago Daily News service.
It was not until the first lialf of the 1980s that portable computers came on the scene, not too long after direct telephone dialing. Until then, the Olivetti Letra 22 typewriter was the choice dejour. I still have two at home but cannot find any body to recondition them. Juan Tamayo became the first person at the Herald to use a portable computer, sometime in the early 1980s. It was an Otrono and to call it portable is stretching the truth. I remember more than once Tamayo walking out of the office with that thing strapped on his back. Then came the Tandy 200, a laptop computer model.
That brings us up to the information and transportation revolution of recent years which has dramatical!y improved the timeliness of getting the riews to the consumer. The revolution also has its downside, one being an increase in 'parachute' journalism which mitigates against good old-fashioned reporting. Now, a reporter can fly to a country that he has never been to before on a breaking story, having access in advance to virtually everything that has been written about the country. Once there, he can call down the latest wires, write an authoritative story, file it for the deadline and leave, without making a telephone call except to connect to his computer. As an example, cite the recent inauguration of Rene Preval as Haiti's new president. A reporter from a major newspaper, which shall remain unnamed, was assigned at the last minute to cover the inauguration. Only slightly familiar with Haiti, he arrived mid-afternoon on inauguration day, after the ceremonies were over. Catching up on what had happened from colleagues and calling down the wires, he wrote and filed a story of the day's events, and left early the next morning, spending about 18 hours in the country. The story, which 1 later saw, was adequate but certainly did not contain much insight into Haiti's problems. There is also a trend toward more generalists among foreign correspondents as opposed to the specialists such as jim Goodsell who dedicated their careers to a single region, whether it be Latin America, Africa or Asia.
I will venture no guesses as to what will happen on the technological side ofjotirnalism over the next few years, having mvself"barely gotten past the Tandy 200s and direct dial telepheming. I assume it is safe to say, however, that the changes are likely to he startling.
The major story themes will certainly continue to be related to the dramatic changes that began with the end of the Cold War. On the positive side, social issues will get much more attention, now that they are no longer subjugated to an ideological overlay. The war on drugs will remain a high profile topic. Coverage of free market economics and a hemisphere free trade area will get major attention. Changes of government--less so with overt military coups seemingly headed the way of the dodo bird--will also be covered. Terrorism, ethnic conflicts and border disputes will continue to capture headlines. The Internet will feed the influence of NGOS, human rights and advocacy groups, making it better able for them to get their messages out to the media and opinion makers.
In closing, I came across something recently written about another journalist, that struck me as particularly applicable to Jim Goodsell and today's journalism. Some of you will probably recognize the story. I would like to read it, substituting Jim's name for the other journalist, Nathaniel Nash.
From Tom Friedman's April 10 column in the New York Times on Nathaniel Nash, who died in the crash of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's airplane:
With today's cacophony of magazine shows, Oprah-style interview sessions and talking head news commentaries, many people have lost sight of what real journalists do. Journalists do not appear on the McLaughlin show and scream at each other. Journalists do not interview mothers and daughters on daytime confession hours. Journalists do not have their own shock-jock radio shows. Unfortunately, though, these are the people many Americans see most often in quasi-journalist roles and these are the people they think of as journalists today.
Journalists are reporters like Jim Goodsell who go off to uncomfortable and often dangerous places like Central America and Croatia and get on a military plane to chase after a visiting dignitary without giving it a second thought--all to get a few fresh quotes, maybe a scoop, or even just a paragraph of color that no one else has...
Jim was a living reminder that to be successful, journalists do not have to be cynics. The book on Jim as a reporter was that he was too nice. His colleagues always doubted that anyone that nice could ever succeed in journalism, but somehow he triumphed over that handicap and went from one successful assignment to another. It was because Jim intuitively understood that there was a difference between skepticism and cynicism. This is a lesson a lot of us have forgotten, Skepticism is about asking questions, being dubious, being wary, not being gullible. Cynicism is about already having the answers--or thinking you do--about a person or an event. The skeptic says: "I don't think that's true; I'm going to check it out." The cynic says: "I know that's not true. It couldn't be. I'm going to slam him." There is a fine line between the two, but it is a line Jim always respected.
Don Bohning is a staff writer for the Miami Herald. He has been with the Herald for 36 years.…