Reuters to cut its Baltic news wire

  • 2001-10-11
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - One of the world's leading news organizations, Reuters, announced last week that they will shut down their local Reuters Baltic News Service as of April next year.

Jonathan Lynn, Reuters' chief correspondent for the Nordic countries and the Baltics, said the service was losing money and that was why the news organization had decided to close it down.

"We needed to sell it to a larger number of clients than were available to make a profit on," Lynn said.

Reuters' news offices in the Baltics, however, will not be closed down completely. The news organization will be operating as usual, but they will solely focus on their international clients with stories on business activities, the economy and the local Baltic markets.

The local Baltic news wire service Baltic News Service also provides news reports in English, but offers most of its reporting in the local Baltic languages - Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. BNS is also the only Pan-Baltic news wire agency here.

George Shabad, CEO of BNS, said he thought there would not be any significant impact on the local market after Reuters cut its local wire next year.

"Well, we'll be the only ones who'll provide news from this region in English," Shabad said. "Reuters started in 1997 when the stock market was on the rise here, and they were probably hoping for clients from that field."

As the only player on the market, starting from April next year, demands on BNS will be higher. Shabad said they did take their English service seriously and that it was their main asset.

"We have quite a high demand on our English language service from clients outside the Baltics, but unfortunately the world is not so interested in what's going on here," he said.

On average BNS will post about 20 items per day on news and business in English. But in the local languages they post about 200 per day in the same categories.

Shabad said they hired an English language editor last year for the whole wire.

"We try to keep the highest standard possible given the economic situation," he said.

Juris Kaza, reporter at the daily Dienas Bizness, said that at first glance, the closing down of Reuters' local service could appear as a victory for BNS, but it could also be the right thing for Reuters to do at this time.

"Maybe the market is not ready for an all-English language news service not backed by local languages," said Kaza. "They (Reuters) may be acting correctly on their own terms."

There are a few locally produced English language news publications in the Baltics, but The Baltic Times is the only Pan-Baltic news publication.

Karlis Streips, a U.S. reporter in Latvia, said he didn't follow English language media much in Latvia since he reads the Latvian press, but he said it was sad that Reuters would be closing down a part of its service because he believed that the more news agencies, the more correct the reporting would be from this region.

"I watch what's going on on CNN, but they're not doing a very good job on covering the Baltics. For example, they covered the Baltics independence from Moscow," Streips said. "They've never had any permanent presence in the Baltics, but maybe it's not justified because perhaps there aren't too many things happening here that would be of interest for them."

There are, however, several international news wires present in the Baltics, including the Associated Press, Deutsche Presse Agentur and Agence France-Presse.

J. Michael Lyons, AP's correspondent in Latvia, said he was primarily aimed at the American market and that it was hard to generate much interest in the Baltics there.

What sells in the United States are the same things most Latvians are tired of hearing about.

"Basically, what sells are stories about Nazis, Russians and sometimes economic reforms. It's not so much what Latvia has or hasn't done, but this is what people (in the United States) would know anything about," he said. "It is also possible to sell the funny odd story."

Interest for what is going on in the Baltics and many other places as far as the news wires are concerned took a dramatic dive following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11.

Wall Street Journal Europe correspondent in the Baltics, Ben Smith, said that the only thing of interest from the Baltics now are stories related to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Lyons also agreed about the lack of any attention directed toward the Baltics after what transpired in the United States.

Smith also spoke of the Baltic countries' view of the international press, particularly Latvia.

"Latvians have this idea that the foreign press is always out to get them, and that we want to tarnish their image internationally," Smith said. "As if Latvia had an image in the first place."

News publications are not the only things printed in English in Latvia. There are three tourist guides printed as well. One of them is Riga In Your Pocket. The In Your Pocket chain of tourist guides can be found in several cities throughout Europe.

Regional manager for Scandinavia and the Baltics, Martins Zaprauskis, said he believed there was room for English language publications in the Baltics.

"There are three city guides published in Riga and they have all been going on for many years now," he said. "If these guides can go on, there must be room on the market for it."

Of course, news and tourist information cater to different kinds of audiences. Foreign investors are finding their way to the Baltics for new business opportunities every year.

"As Riga develops and becomes more of a tourist and business center, things will start to pick up," Zaprauskis said.