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The Baron's Briefings

Bob Basler

With more than 40 years in journalism, Bob Basler (right) can tell some tales. Indeed, the stories are spilling out of him these days, and he is finding a ready market for them on Substack, an online publishing platform for blogs and e-newsletters. 


Basler shared the story of his Substack journey with an online audience of Reuters colleagues in the final 2023 talk of a series of Baron’s Briefing webinars organised jointly by The Reuter Society and The Baron website. 


Many of those stories arose during his 30+ years as a Reuters correspondent and editor in Washington DC, Hong Kong and New York. There's one about trying to get into Lebanon, and another about getting out of China following Tiananmen Square. A tale of dinner with Imelda Marcos and her children. And the challenges he faced in an early assignment on the New York desk at 1700 Broadway, where he was responsible for translating "British" English into stories acceptable for use in US newspapers, and vice versa. "It was about much more than spelling," he said.  


Then there is the story Reuters did not allow him to write, about serving in the same Indiana National Guard unit with eventual US Vice President Dan Quayle. When Quayle was nominated for the vice presidency, an old photo of Basler and Quayle surfaced, sparking a tsunami of press queries. Basler, based in Hong Kong at the time, got caught between Reuters' ban on reporters writing about their personal experiences and a US desk hungry for the story. Basler did finally share the story, but only years later and solely for Reuters World, the staff magazine. 


In retirement Basler started writing his stories down, but it was only at the insistence of friends that he looked for a wider audience. He settled on Substack earlier this year. His Substack newsletter, "5 a.m. Stories", has grown quickly and now has accumulated 300 subscribers and 50,000 page views. One attraction of Substack is the low cost of entry: contributors pay nothing. And so far Basler has chosen not to charge for his newsletter. His compensation is the fun of reading comments. For now, anyway.


From his very first day at Reuters, Basler found joy writing “brights" … short, quirky news stories. But at that time he knew that Reuters placed little value on them. So he kept that preference to himself. Eventually, though, he found opportunities to "drag Reuters into the trenches of humour", creating the ODD1 page for financial news terminals and the popular "Oddly Enough" franchise. Both attracted widespread interest, and eventually Basler compiled and edited two books of Reuters brights. 


Now living back in his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, Basler is having fun rummaging through memories from both Reuters and other parts of his life, building an audience and reconnecting with former colleagues. He credits former Toronto colleague Leah Eichler with publishing some of his early stories in her literary journal, Esoterica, and encouraging him to go the Substack route, and former North America managing editor Janie Gabbett with editing his Substack submissions. 


Gabbett, Basler's Hong Kong office mate, also vetted the many nicknames Basler proposed for himself, hoping to join the long line of Reuters correspondents with their own monikers. She eventually approved "Buzzy", but to Basler's dismay it never caught on.


What does Basler think of the Reuters news wire today? He rarely recognises any bylines. "But it's better written than AP."

PHOTO: Bob Basler (right) with Dan Quayle, US vice president from 1989 to 1993, when they both served in the same Indiana National Guard unit. ■