A Global Texas Needs Global Journalism


A version of this story ran in the May 2012 issue.

Other than coverage of Mexico, there is almost no original international reporting by the Texas media anymore, leaving Texans increasingly in the dark as we experience the ripple effects of events abroad.

The Texas Observer’s courageous Melissa del Bosque routinely travels across the Rio Grande to cover Mexican issues. The Houston Chronicle’s Dudley Althaus has been a rock-steady, fearless reporter living in Mexico for over two decades. Alfredo Corchado of The Dallas Morning News has been on the front lines from the newspaper’s bureau in Mexico City. Almost any other international reporting for a state audience by Texas publications is now practically non-existent. Almost every media outlet in Texas has slashed its foreign news budget—as have most national news organizations—in response to economic pressures.

A count by American Journalism Review last year found only 230 foreign correspondents employed by U.S. newspapers, down from 307 in 2003, when the last AJR survey was conducted. (The AJR study showed only Althaus and Corchado working abroad for Texas publications).

Texas does have a precious few magazine correspondents who sometimes roam abroad, including The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright (based in Austin, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11) and Forbes’ Christopher Helman (based in Houston, who occasionally covers the energy industry’s power plays in Saudi Arabia and Qatar). Arguably Texas’ most well-traveled international reporter is National Public Radio’s John Burnett. He routinely jets to cover natural disasters in Haiti or Japan for the national radio audience.

The sad fact is that the dearth of foot soldiers covering international news on behalf of Texas media outlets has often allowed xenophobes to go unchallenged. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens loves summoning the foreign bogeyman as he touts natural gas as a “patriotic” alternative to imported oil. The search for alternative energy sources is one issue, but employing jingoistic tones is another. And the media in Texas still too often stumble on their idolatry of the state’s citizen kings—especially the international oilmen—and don’t drill down on how these powerful business leaders may be swaying U.S. foreign policies for their own corporate benefit.

With Texas’ ascension to certified Super State status and the deep inroads made here by foreign corporations such as British Petroleum, there are clear reasons for Texas media outlets to cover more foreign news. Never mind that Houston and Dallas are filling with immigrants from every corner of the globe.

Beginning in the 1980s, there was an incredible surge in ambitious foreign coverage led by Texas reporters: The Dallas Morning News won Pulitzers for its photojournalism about Romanian orphans and the war in Iraq. It won an international reporting award for a powerful investigative series into global violence against women. The best foreign correspondent in the history of Texas newspapers, Ed Timms, covered the hottest spots: Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, the Palestinian territories, Angola, the Balkans, Haiti and Zaire.

For a while, the Morning News seemed almost hellbent on proving its international mettle. The paper opened bureaus in Berlin and Toronto and many other major international cities and several correspondents (including me) were dispatched to cover strife in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, East Germany, the Soviet Union and the Philippines. The Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram also had coverage from abroad, some leading to Pulitzers and other major prizes.

The Dallas paper even set up a Havana bureau in 2000. At the time, that bureau seemed to be some sort of symbolic last stand for Texas-tied international reporting. The bureau closed in 2004, and with it rang a death knell for foreign news’ heyday in Texas.

For now, there isn’t much to be done about it—other than tune into NPR and read The New York Times and The Economist, or search your other favorite online sources. And hope some reporter out there has seen the ties that bind this country called Texas to events around the world.

Either that, or you can read some more numbingly simplistic, subservient coverage of Texans who embrace natural gas as a surefire way to give the middle finger to all those wicked foreigners— from Venezuela to the Middle East.