A foreign correspondent's view on newspaper struggles

Here’s a brand.

Trudy Rubin is what’s left of the once glorious international presence of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

She just returned from another tour of Iraq, where she has further cemented her reputation as a top global-reporting force. Her Worldview column and her blog are musts for those following American presences in the Middle East (Subscribe here). Yeah, and she’s doing for the Inquirer, fo real.

On Tuesday, she fielded questions in an online forum and, along with politics and military, I was joined by others asking her thoughts on newspapers.

Find them below.

These are the questions relating to media. For the entire transcript go here.

How hard is it to get a press pass to embed? What are the channels you have to go through?

Trudy Rubin:  You need a letter from a bona fide newspaper saying you represent them, which you take to the military’s press center. That’s about it.

Is it easier or harder to report fresh, important content when there is less or more U.S. media? Can you compare your international experiences before this newspaper fallout?

Trudy Rubin:  I always think that more correspondents is better than fewer, because in a difficult environment more means a better chance of uncovering stories that will go unreported if there are only a few. That has been my experience in covering previous wars in the Middle East.

What is your opinion on Nouri al-Maliki, and how do you feel about his restrictions placed on the press?

Trudy Rubin: Maliki, about whom I’m writing a column today, is someone who is uncomfortable with democracy, even though he doesn’t want to openly oppose it. He comes from a small conspiratorial party that was underground or in exile under Saddam and he thinks in that manner. He is trying to convey the image of a strongman which the population really wants, and he has gained popularity by acting as a nationalist, and moving against Shiite militias, even though he is a Shiite.   However, he seems unable to govern or to provide the services and jobs that the population needs.

Why are many mainstream media pulling out of Iraq?

Trudy Rubin:  Chris, mainstream media are pulling out of Iraq because they are in deep financial trouble and keeping bureaus there is extremely costly. There is also the feeling that AMericans don’t care about Iraq any more, and that it’s time to move coverage to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think this is a bad mistake, given the continuing importance of the Iraq story, but in a recession, money trumps.

What do you see happening to coverage of international issue — such as the war in iraq — by daily newspaper (such as the inquirer) given the financial pressure many newspapers are facing. Will these types of trips become increasingly rarer?

Trudy Rubin:  I’m hoping The Inquirer will continue to send me abroad, but nothing is certain in this economic environment. Many papers are shutting or consolidating foreign bureaus (The Inquirer already closed its foreign bureaus a while ago.) If readers like yourself want foreign coverage you have to make your wishes known to the publisher and the editors of the newspaper you read!

These are the questions relating to media. For the entire transcript go here.

Here’s her biography from the Inquirer:

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Wednesdays and Sundays. In the past five years she has visited Iraq nine times and has also written from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, China and South Korea . She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting.

What would you have asked her? Will the void be filled that is left by fewer and fewer foreign correspondents from U.S. newspapers?