What a terrible year in the news.
In March, when the tsunami hit Japan, I was having an online conversation with someone in the art world in Tokyo. "I'm sorry I have to go," she wrote, with the almost insane politeness of the Japanese people. "The floor is shaking."
"My god, run! Don't bother checking your email!" I wrote back.
This was happening as all of us in the newsroom gathered around the TV to watch those horrible, killer waves crashing over towns and villages.
Sometimes the news seems so far away -- distant wars and distant famines affecting distant people. And sometimes it's so close, it's scary.
In September, our fellow Hong Kong blogger, Daisann at Real Travel Hong Kong, was among the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.
Two months later, Ehab Hamdi, my dear friend from Oxford and a gentlemanly professor, was out there on the streets of Egypt, fighting the good fight for his country. He sent me this Facebook message: "support me, i really need it, the situation is very critical, pray 4 us, im on the square since 3 days, they may cut the internet, pray 4 us..."
From Egypt -- a beautiful shot from Italian photographer Filippo Monteforte for Agence France-Presse / Getty Images, taken from The New York Times.
Here are the top-10 news stories of the year, according to three sources -- CNN, Al Jazerra and Xinhua -- representing America, the Middle East and China. It's interesting to see what three different sets of news editors found significant, or not.
CNN's Top Ten
1. The Arab Spring and the killing of Gadaffi
2. Japan's triple disasters -- earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown
3. Natural disasters in the U.S.
4. Osama bin Laden killed
5. Afghan War turns 10 years old -- not a happy birthday
6. European economic crisis
7. Occupy Wall Street
8. Republicans gear up for 2012
9. Norway terrorist attacks
10. U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords is shot
CNN also has a special mention for men behaving badly: Charlie Sheen, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the aptly, if unfortunately, named Anthony Weiner, a local New York politician now known to the world as "that guy who kept Tweeting half-naked pictures of himself."
Al Jazeera's Top Ten was my favorite, with an excellently illustrated online package.
1. The Arab Awakening
2. Japan's triple disasters
3. U.S. kills Bin Laden
4. Devastating famine in Horn of Africa
5. Europe's year of austerity
6. Occupy Wall Street
7. Birth of South Sudan
8. UK riots: London burns
9. Palestine Papers: The secret negotiations
10. US troops leave Iraq
Kim Jong Il's death gets a special mention at the end.
I have to admit that I was skeptical of Al Jazeera when it first opened. The Middle East is not exactly known for its free press, and many of us expected either a shoddy product, a minor player in world media, or something like pro-Arab state propaganda.
Boy, were we wrong. In a few years, they have created a network of top correspondents, doing high-quality, hard-hitting, critical reporting -- offering a welcome alternative to the usual U.S.- or Euro-dominated world media.
Finally, here's Xinhua's list
1. "Strong turbulence" in the Arab world.
2. China becomes world's 2nd largest economy, eclipsing Japan.
3. Economic crises in Europe and America
4. Japan's disasters
5. Bin Laden killed
6. South Sudan declares independence
7. Drought in Horn of Africa
8. Global population exceeds 7 billion
9. Iranian nuclear crisis worsens
10. DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il dies
Ha! I love "strong turbulence." Makes me think of what happens when you're going on vacation and your plastic cup of wine goes flying off your airline serving tray.
Xinhua really has to work on its web site optimization. If you Google "Xinhua 2011 top news" the first link that comes up is to Business Ghana. But at least its international top 10 didn't sound like a piece of state propaganda. The same can't be said for its Top Ten Chinese News Events.
For me, the biggest Chinese story was the relentless harassment of Ai Weiwei, which ended with that bizarre capture at Beijing airport, followed by months of secret detention, international condemnation, and what most people presume to be a made-up tax fraud case. Whatever you think of Ai, this was a bigdeal.
And, later in the year, the giant protests in Guangdong Province. And don't forget the ever-simmering maritime dispute between China and its Asian neighbors.
But nope. According to the state media, this is the most interesting thing that happened in China all year.
"The State Council, or China's Cabinet, in an executive meeting on January 26 introduced a policy package urging enhanced efforts to ensure the healthy development of the property sector....." ZZzzzzzzzzz.
You know what's strange? Not one of these lists includes the death of Steve Jobs, whose innovations are used by people all over the world.
We can say good-bye, and good riddance, to the bad guys: Muammar el-Qaddafi, Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong-Il. Let's hope for the sake of their countrypeople that those leaders are replaced by kinder, saner, souls.
Let's hope that the Afghan War doesn't go on for another 10 years.
Let's hope that who-ever it is in charge of Western financial systems -- whether in New York or Brussels -- gets their act together.
Let's hope that Japan continues to crawl out of the physical and economic wreckage wrought by natural disaster.
Here's the to end of a difficult 2011, and best wishes for a better, healthier, happier 2012.