Foreign Correspondents: Doomed

When I was growing up . . . OK, actually when I was in J-school, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Going to far-flung places, seeing the world, dodging bullets, meeting important people – it sounded like a really cool job.

Shame they’re an endangered (doomed?) species.

As part of a series of articles over at the Britannica Blog on the impending demise of the newspaper,

I do not believe, however, that the foreign correspondence profession will disappear. If anything, correspondents are needed more than ever because the world has gotten so complex and so small. Only someone on the spot can provide the context and background that curious readers need in order to fully understand what is happening in far-flung places.

How correspondents package their product will vary. It may be words. Or pictures. Or video.

One thing is for sure: It won’t be by telex.

really good foreign coverage requires more than parachuting in, getting a few quotes or a little video coverage, and filing. It requires correspondents to spend time in one place or country, get to know the people and the environment etc.

Both true. I agree that we all need good news investigation and reporting from all over the world. And I’d say that Murphy is right on the money when she says that correspondents can’t just parachute in, shoot, and split to the next war/crisis/coup/etc.

But let’s connect the dots here. Don’t these two thoughts, taken together, mean that foreign correspondents, as a profession, are in fact threatened, if not doomed?

Here’s a thought experiment: You’re the foreign editor a major US news organization. The big story of the day: a threat of civil war in southeast Asia. Vast oil deposits have been discovered just offshore. But the province in whose territory the fields actually lie has announced that it will secede – and take all the oil with it. In response, the national government has moved in the army as a deterrent. Tensions are high. You have two options:

a) There is an American journalist in the area. He is originally from Iowa, but he’s been travelling and reporting in Asia and Africa for years, and built a reputation with his excellent news blog. He regularly freelances for major news organizations like CNN and the BBC on stories of international importance. He is in the region now, and will provide high-quality pictures, text and video.

b) There is a local journalist in the area. She was actually born in the disputed province, and for some years now she’s been living and working in the capital. There, she’s been covering local and national government for the Thai news, on a freelance basis. She also runs a popular blog on southeast Asian politics. Her written English is flawless and she will provide pictures, text and video.

Who will know the area better?

Who will have a better network of local contacts?

Who will understand the nuances of the story better?

Who would you send?

It’s not always going to be cut and dried. But remember that in most circumstances our US journalist ‘a’, above, is going to have to hire a local fixer/translator/driver, anyhow.

But what if the fixer is capable of producing all the material him/herself? Why bother with the import?

UPDATE – The Frontline Blog has a good round-up and discussion on this topic.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Correspondents: Doomed

  1. Of to make it clearer, whether her opinions agree with the editor’s. I know, I know, journalist integrity and all that…

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