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The British Are Coming

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Starting today, that once-venerable bastion of British journalism, The Times of London, is gracing the rebellious colonies with a daily U.S. edition.

The Times, whose luster appears to have faded since its purchase in 1981 by tabloid king Rupert Murdoch, is being distributed initially in just two states, New York and New Jersey, although anyone can order a subscription.

The Times's move into the U.S. newspaper market comes a few days after the British Broadcasting Corporation's announcement of a 24-hour news channel that seeks to compete against CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel.

In addition, the Economist, a British weekly news-magazine, has been test-marketing here in Baltimore and has had a 30 percent sales increase in the last couple of months.

It's curious that British media outlets are suddenly more interested in the United States, particularly at a time when most newspapers here are struggling with falling circulation and advertising.

Bonnie Brownlee, associate dean of Indiana University's journalism school, says, "It's really puzzling."

"This is some novelty pipe dream by British news organizations that are hoping to sell in the United States," she says. "It's hard to see how they're going to make any money. The BBC is one thing there's hope for them. But the Times? Who wants it? It's not what it used to be. It's a Murdoch paper!"

But others see opportunity for The Times and The Economist, as well as for two other British papers that already publish here The Guardian, which brought out a weekly edition in the States in 2003, and The Financial Times, which launched a U.S. edition in 1997.

Paul Rossi, The Economist's publisher for North America, says many Americans see home-grown news outlets as biased.

"I think there's an increasing demand in the U.S. for an outsider's view," especially since 9/11, Rossi says.

Besides, he says, U.S. newspapers, newsmagazines and TV news divisions, pinched for cash, have cut back on foreign correspondents, leaving overseas media to pick up the slack.

The Times today printed almost 10,000 copies, selling for $1 each. The job is being handled by The New York Post, which, along with the Fox News Channel, is also owned by Murdoch.

Today's front page leads with the headline, "Stock market badly beaten," a tale of yesterday's Wall Street woes. There's a teaser to a column in the Business section about "The Fed's Next Move," and a Sports story about the goalkeeper for the U.S. soccer team at the World Cup in Germany. The headline for that is "The man with U.S. honour in hand," using the British spelling for "honour," with a "u." We'll have to get used to that.

There's a story about a $2 billion exhibit in Spain to mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Pablo Picasso. And, in keeping with the paper's heavily international flavor, there are articles from Peru, China and Somalia.

All very fine, but the British media do not have a monopoly on truth or ethics, says Edward Wasserman, a journalism professor at Washington and Lee University.

"British newspapers are exuberant, interesting and engaging, but they're sure as hell not any more trustworthy," he says, adding that the failings the American press is being critized for bias, partial accounts, heavily interpretive stories "are the signatures of British journalism: They're masters at this stuff."

On the other hand, "serious" British media such as The Times and the BBC are "less about screaming headlines, a little more tempered," says Mary Quigley, a journalism professor at New York University.

"The BBC won't give you a biased take in the way that Fox does," Quigley says. "They also say everything so nicely, you know. The news just sounds better."

This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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