Editorial

An Editor’s Note /

We conceived dispatches to fit somewhere between Gutenberg and Google, a lively source of fresh knowledge about a world changing at warp speed in a format for people who savor the heft of words and images on paper. We want you to carry it on the plane, stuff it in your pocket, underline it, pass it around, and then put it on the shelf with subsequent issues as a useful objet d’art.

A lot of people, obviously enough, declared us nuts not to be publishing online. For so many today, the web now rules. But think about it.

Too often, these days, we forget a simple truth: the Internet is a means of delivery, not a source. It is the cyber–age version of a roll of newsprint. It may move at the speed of light while keeping your fingers clean. Yet what matters still is what mattered when news was chipped on cave walls and then scratched on parchment: the message.

Subjects as important as the fate of our world deserve the permanence of print. Photographs that illustrate far more than the story at hand ought to be presented in full power. Does a new generation disagree? We doubt it.

Not long ago, my wife yelled out the door to relay an online flash: someone had shot Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan’s role is pivotal in a fast–changing world; this was big news. At that time, I was pruning olive trees that bore fruit before there was an America, let alone a Pakistan. As a road–worn reporter, I knew the first “facts” would change five times before the coffee boiled. The bigger story would take some thought and interpretation.

More important than format is how dispatches came about. Gary Knight and I, co–editors, are journalists who were frustrated at trying to seek “truth” on the fly. Like the Bhutto assassination, news that really matters must be conveyed in human terms, within a broader context of past, present, and future. This takes not only time and space but also reflection. Reporters and photographers need a free hand to relay what they see, hear, and smell.

Alerts flashed on a Blackberry are useful, but they convey little if not fortified with the authority of hard reporting: careful fact–checking and a deep understanding of those basic human realities.

The “mainstream media” takes a lot of heat these days, and part of it is deserved. Some corporate owners try to pump up profits by giving less while claiming more. Yet others, despite nobler intentions, struggle with changing consumer habits we have yet to understand. In either case, we are left with steadily less of even that “truth” on the fly at a time when we desperately need up–close reporting.

In the United States, dailies let go 2,400 journalists in the past year, a 4.4 percent decrease. Staffs are at 1984 levels, and foreign correspondents are among the hardest hit. In France, Le Monde journalists struck after a fourth of the newsroom was eliminated. And so forth. Among broadcast media, the picture is no better.

Reporters too often must guess at vital news from a distance if they notice it at all. Some editors try hard under difficult circumstances. Others, misguided by their own prejudgments, blur reality beyond recognition. Either way, citizens who must vote wisely and make hard choices for their families are badly served. Much remains to be admired among traditional news sources. But the best of them face constraints of time and space.

With dispatches, we aim to provide crucial human and historical context. As a quarterly, we do not compete. You will find fresh facts and insights which others have missed; a healthy newsgathering environment. But we won’t trumpet “scoops” and “exclusives.” Our purpose, instead, to provide substance that gives hourly, daily, and weekly news organizations added value. Beyond the basics, we examine why things go wrong and what can be done.

In between our regular issues, this site keeps subjects fresh with contributions from firsthand sources. As we grow, special projects will follow.

Google, among others, takes us into an exciting new age. Yet those weighty tomes going back to Gutenberg keep us all firmly rooted in a wider reality. Our purpose is to provoke thought and spur debate. We welcome your thoughts via whatever medium you choose.