International 'media circus' coming to town

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Point Breeze painter Stephen Hankin usually likes to summon his artistic muse in solitude, but last week while working on Mount Washington he found himself with plenty of company.

"One day I was interviewed by a fellow from a German newspaper who was doing a story on Pittsburgh, who then gave my name to a reporter for Swiss public radio," recalled Mr. Hankin. "The next day, there was a photographer from a French magazine who stood on a garbage can to get a good shot of me with the city below, and still another day there was a television crew from Beijing."

Heady stuff indeed for Mr. Hankin, whose photo of him doing his Gene-Kelly-at-the-easel-on-Montmartre thing was published Friday in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany's largest papers.

"Unbelievable," he said, noting that he usually only gets to brag about Pittsburgh's charms to out-of-town friends and family. "Now I have all these readers in Germany and France who get to hear me spout off."

As the long-awaited G-20 summit in Pittsburgh finally gets under way this week, national and international journalists have already been busy writing about the city's turnaround from heavy industry to high-tech and medicine magnet -- from Frankfurter Allgemeine to the Finnish TV current affairs program "Ajankohtainen Kakkonen" to Italy's Corriere della Sera, which recently published a story titled "Pittsburgh: Citta del Futuro" (Pittsburgh: City of the Future) complete with artsy, brooding photos.

Kirsi Jansa, a Pittsburgh resident and a freelance reporter for Finnish television, said her editors asked her to do a piece on the G-20 protesters and the potential for violence. "We'll examine whether violence is an inevitable outcome in mass protests today, but I'm also talking to people who are against the protests," noting she'd spoken to a wide range of people, from anarchists to Bob Ieraci, a retired steelworker from Baldwin Borough, who told her he had no problem with orderly demonstrations but expressed irritation about threats of havoc if protesters didn't get their way.

"He was perfect. A real 'Everyman,' " she said.

Others are simply extolling the city's transformation in comparison to other Rust-Belt cities.

"Other cities like Detroit are miles away from where Pittsburgh is right now," said Matthias Rueb, the German reporter from Frankfurter Allgemeine who collared Mr. Hankin on Mount Washington. "You've got all these high-tech centers, your convention center is LEED-certified and yet you've also preserved these ethnic neighborhoods with a real European feel. That's the story I'm writing,"

Mr. Rueb, based in Washington, plans to return to Pittsburgh this week, along with an estimated 3,000 other journalists who will hunker down at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, hanging on the world leaders' every word, every gesture, every gaffe.

"Get ready, the media circus is coming to town," joked Steve Holland, a longtime White House correspondent for Thomson Reuters, the global news and information service, which, beginning Wednesday, is bringing in 30 people -- correspondents, photographers, staffers from Reuters TV and the Thomson Reuters financial television service -- who will be at the Wyndham Hotel in Oakland.

"The G-20 in Pittsburgh is certainly the biggest planned event Reuters is covering in the U.S. this year," added a Reuters spokeswoman, who noted that other Reuters staffers will be flying in from all over the world, some with world leaders.

Other business media outlets, from Bloomberg to CNBC to Fox Business News, will have a heavy presence here as well, but so far NBC's Brian Williams is the only network anchor with plans to host a nightly newscast from Pittsburgh.

Still, as summits go, this one could be especially newsy, said Mr. Holland.

"I'm used to going to G-8 summits in the U.S., Italy, Moscow and Paris, but now, with 20 leaders instead of eight, this one is going to be more interesting," he said.

An added bonus: There's no time difference between Pittsburgh, Washington and New York, said Peter Barnes of Fox Business News, another summit veteran -- and onetime intern for The Pittsburgh Press.

"These are not vacations, you're working 12- to 14-hour days, so you've got the time zone problem. Thank God it's in Pittsburgh," said Mr. Barnes, senior Washington correspondent for Fox Business News. He, too, expects some news to break out as the leaders grapple with the aftershocks of the financial crisis and wrangle over how to regulate the international banking system.

Others, like Newsweek's veteran political columnist Howard Fineman, are just using the event to spend as much time in his hometown as possible.

"I have no business covering the G-20," said Mr. Fineman, a graduate of Allderdice High School who has already made several trips to the city for panels and appearances. "I'm not an economist, I'm not a policy analyst. I'm a political writer specializing in American politics and the people at MSNBC are indulging me."

Mr. Fineman worries, however, that the Secret Service "will suffocate all those journalists penned into the Golden Triangle and they won't be able to see anything."

So, he plans to use his own platform -- on television, his blog and even, he hopes, in a column -- to describe the sturdy, hype-averse Pittsburgh character to his Washington colleagues, whose image of the city "has been formed by those promotional videos at the beginning of every nationally televised Steelers game -- you know, the ones with the gigantic ladles of molten steel touting 'the sons and grandsons of Serbia and Croatia' stuffing french fries onto a Primanti Brothers sandwich."

"There are no more skeptical people in America than Pittsburghers," he added. "Not cynical but skeptical. They have lived through tough economic times going back to the early 1970s. People don't wear rose-colored glasses in Pittsburgh. They are realistic about their city and see its flaws clearly, but sometimes they also don't appreciate its virtues, either."

Mr. Barnes, whose Pittsburgh memories date to his 1979 summer internship at the Press, vows to make sure that his colleagues will experience one of those virtues.

"The first thing I'm going to do here is take my TV producer and some of the press pool over to the Original Oyster House on Market Square for their nice big fish filet sandwich and a beer," Mr. Barnes said.

"I've been dreaming about that sandwich for 30 years and I hope it's still as good as I remember it. I don't think there's any fish sandwich anywhere else that even comes close."


Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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