Some months ago, the New York Times broke out a portion of its business coverage into a section called "World Business," which is a page of international financial news followed by several pages of stock tables. There's a general trend toward publishing more international business lately, on the theory, I guess, that our inescapably global economy has gotten readers of the financial pages more interested than ever in news from abroad.
In today's "World Business" (in the national edition, anyway), the three top stories are a 12-paragraph piece headlined "In Australia, Even Foster's Is Turning to Wine;" 17 paragraphs under the heading "Myanmar Tests Resolve of I.L.O. on Enforcing Standards;" and a 15-paragraph wire story, "Argentina, With Bond Swap, Seeks to Revive Its Economy." I couldn't bring myself to read even one of these, but by the standards of the "World Business" section, this is actually a fascinating lineup.
I say this because most of the truly interesting international business stories (such as Alcatel's flirtation with Lucent) still play out in the regular old business section. The function of "World Business" seems to be to serve as a clearinghouse for articles you don't particularly need to read.
Now, the concept of dull headlines that promise less-than-scintillating stories is not new (William Safire has been credited with naming these articles MEGOs, for My Eyes Glaze Over). But I think "World Business" deserves some special recognition for its contribution to the world supply of headlines that are so uninviting they hover on the page like dares—go on, they say, the global economy is important, immerse yourself in its far-flung details, if you can stand it.
Anyway, since this section debuted I've been very pleased with it, because it can be tossed into the "done" pile pretty much instantaneously as I labor through three papers every morning. But lately I've been pausing a moment longer to take note of the stories I don't have the fortitude to read. Last week, for instance, on the same day, the section ran an 11-paragraph story headlined "Canadian Driller Fights Hostile Kazakh Bid" and eight paragraphs on this: "Upstart Jostles for Place in Japan's Phone Market."
In other news of telecom upstarts, the section made room for 13 paragraphs the day before for the story, "Australian Phone Upstart Declared Insolvent." Actually the "World Business" section is all over the action-packed Australian economy lately, having noted in an eight-paragraph item on May 23: "Analyst Sees Slow Quarter for Australia." What else? Well, on May 25, the section was led by the headline "Big Dutch Insurer Sizes Up Potential Takeovers," an 18-paragraph article. And on May 22, an astounding 21 paragraphs followed the headline "Europe Warns Israel of Limits on Some Duty-Free Goods."
Just to be clear, I'm not out to trivialize the business and economic developments in other countries, and I'm sure each of these stories was read with interest by someone. (Well, I'm not sure of it, but it's possible.) In a way, I'm glad to see the headlines gathered in one place. It tells me not only of the latest developments from the four corners of the global economy, but also that, really, I'm not missing very much.