Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Foreign reporting growing, not shrinking

By Andy Alexander

Despite living in an Internet age, many readers still view the foreign correspondent as some variant of Huntley Haverstock, the cocky but naïve fictional reporter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 classic film “Foreign Correspondent.” Played by Joel McCrea, the trench coat-wearing Haverstock has been sent to Europe by the New York Globe newspaper before the outbreak of World War II. He rubs shoulders with the elite, witnesses a political assassination and finds himself trying to get to the bottom of a spy ring that could alter the future of world history. All this is done as he roams far and wide with little thought to deadlines or the competition.

In contrast, today’s foreign correspondent is more apt to operate under constant deadline pressure in competition with perhaps hundreds of fellow journalists. The correspondent is tethered to the home office via Blackberry, shoots photos and video for stories, files them from an Internet café and perhaps even blogs. All this is done for a readership that already has online access to multiple sources of information about breaking news unfolding in almost any country.

The Huntley Haverstock era is long gone. But as Sunday’s ombudsman column noted, foreign correspondence is anything but extinct. In fact, a case can be made that it’s thriving as never before.

Although cost cutting has forced many newspapers to reduce or abandon overseas bureaus, foreign correspondence is growing as never before. But it needs to be re-defined.

“We need a new way of calibrating foreign correspondence,” said John Maxwell Hamilton, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. By old definitions, the number of foreign correspondents may be down, he said. But he noted that “the numbers are probably actually up” if you count the growth in financial and other wire services, as well as the employment of foreign nationals by U.S. media outlets.

Hamilton’s most recent book, “Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting,” is probably the most authoritative examination of the subject. In its concluding chapter, he chronicles the reduction in the number of foreign correspondents for leading news organizations. Yet for all the cutbacks, he writes, “the adverse environment for old models of news-gathering spawned not just a new model, but new models, plural.” Serious foreign correspondence by legacy media has continued, he writes, “albeit with significant adaptations, while new species of foreign news-gathering and news distribution emerged. All these species carried the DNA of earlier forms. The overall result was a broader, more variegated class of foreign correspondents that, though still imperfect, ensured a continued foreign news flow and formed a basis for improvement.”

As Sunday’s column noted, there’s been a growth in offering specialized foreign news. Bloomberg News, which focuses on financial coverage, started with a six-person staff in 1990 and now has 145 bureaus worldwide employing 1,500 people.

And innovative new models are appearing that ensure independent quality foreign reporting for organizations less able to afford it. The non-profit Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington focuses on international issues that are “under-reported, mis-reported, or not reported on at all,” according to its Web site. The Center helps underwrite the cost of foreign reporting projects and works to get the stories featured in newspapers, broadcast outlets and on the Internet. The reporting projects often are multi-platform, and some have been tailored to a news organization’s specific audience.

An online start-up, Boston-based GlobalPost, touts a network of about 70 correspondents in foreign countries. Some are veterans who wanted to remain in the foreign reporting game after cutbacks by their previous employers. GlobalPost pays them modestly for a minimum number of stories each month. But the quality of reporting is high. The site relies on advertising and offers a paid section called Passport, where individual memberships are $99 a year. Members get access to weekly conference calls with correspondents covering breaking foreign news, and members also can suggest stories ideas. GlobalPost also hopes to generate revenue through syndicating stories and selling coverage to publications worldwide.

Any discussion of modern day foreign correspondence also needs to recognize that the Internet has made it possible to gain instant access to information being generated from bloggers and even average citizens in countries around the world. To be sure, the quality of this “reporting” often is questionable, and the biases of those supplying it frequently make the content suspect. But when it can be verified, it can provide valuable “crowd-sourcing” that can add perspective and context to a foreign report. And video of important events, like this year’s bloody anti-government demonstrations in Iran, can bring a story alive if its authenticity can be established.

“We need a new way of calibrating foreign correspondence,” said John Maxwell Hamilton, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. By old definitions, the number of foreign correspondents may be down, he said. But he noted that “the numbers are probably actually up” if you count the growth in financial and other wire services, as well as the employment of foreign nationals by U.S. media outlets.
Hamilton’s most recent book, “Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting,” is probably the most authoritative examination of the subject. In its concluding chapter, he chronicles the reduction in the number of foreign correspondents for leading news organizations. Yet for all the cutbacks, he writes, “the adverse environment for old models of news-gathering spawned not just a new model, but new models, plural.” Serious foreign correspondence by legacy media has continued, he writes, “albeit with significant adaptations, while new species of foreign news-gathering and news distribution emerged. All these species carried the DNA of earlier forms. The overall result was a broader, more variegated class of foreign correspondents that, though still imperfect, ensured a continued foreign news flow and formed a basis for improvement.”
As Sunday’s column noted, there’s been a growth in offering specialized foreign news. Bloomberg News, which focuses on financial coverage, started with a six-person staff in 1990 and now has 145 bureaus worldwide employing 1,500 people.
And innovative new models are appearing that ensure independent quality foreign reporting for organizations less able to afford it. The non-profit Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington focuses on international issues that are “under-reported, mis-reported, or not reported on at all,” according to its Web site. The Center can help underwrite the cost of foreign reporting projects and works to get the stories featured in newspapers, broadcast outlets and on the Internet. The reporting projects often are multi-platform and some have been tailored to a news organization’s specific audience.
An online start-up, Boston-based GlobalPost, touts a network of scores of correspondents in foreign countries. Some are veterans who wanted to remain in the foreign reporting game after cutbacks by their previous employers. GlobalPost pays them modestly for a minimum number of stories each month. But the quality of reporting is high. The site relies on advertising and offers a paid section called Passport, where individual memberships are $99 a year. Members get access to weekly conference calls with correspondents covering breaking foreign news, and members also can suggest stories ideas. GlobalPost also hopes to generate revenue through syndicating stories and selling coverage to publications worldwide.
Any discussion of modern day foreign correspondence also needs to recognize that the Internet has made it possible to gain instant access to information being generated from bloggers and even average citizens in countries around the world. To be sure, the quality of this “reporting” often is questionable and the biases of those supplying it frequently make the content suspect. But when it can be verified, it can provide valuable “crowd-sourcing” that can add perspective and context to a foreign report. And video of important events, like this year’s bloody anti-government demonstrations in Iran, can bring a story alive if its authenticity can be established.

By Andy Alexander  | December 14, 2009; 4:30 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Correction goes viral, blame is misplaced
Next: Omblog off for the holidays

Comments

Typical Alexander "writing". A quote, an assertion, several qulalifiers, and then: nothing.

The absurdity of the controling metaphor used by John Maxwell Hamilton is silly and useless. Here is how Mr. Alexander, who would make a good stenographer, quotes Hamilton:

"Yet for all the cutbacks, he writes, 'the adverse environment for old models of news-gathering spawned not just a new model, but new models, plural.' Serious foreign correspondence by legacy media has continued, he writes, 'albeit with significant adaptations, while new species of foreign news-gathering and news distribution emerged. All these species carried the DNA of earlier forms. The overall result was a broader, more variegated class of foreign correspondents that, though still imperfect, ensured a continued foreign news flow and formed a basis for improvement.'”


All that DNA nonesense to assert that the changes "formed a basis for improvement."

I thought freshman who had not read the book they were discussing wrote badly until I discovered Mr. Alexander who is a typist's typist and, alas! for civil discourse, an actual fool.

Mr. Alexander please think before you type, please, please, please.

Posted by: wapoisrightwingrag | December 15, 2009 4:43 AM | Report abuse

The "foreign correspondent" is becoming the "local correspondent." Why send a reporter from New York to Mumbai when there are plenty of smart freelancers there already? I'm sure plenty of them own decent HDV or AVCHD camcorders and "good enough" still cameras, too.

Turn it around: why should Al Jazeera or a Japanese TV station send a "foreign correspondent" to Florida if they want someone to interview ordinary people here? Or to look at some of our internationally-famous tourist attractions? They can hire me for much less than the airfare required to send one of their own reporters here.

Posted by: roblimo | December 15, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Yup, there is sure are a lot more source of "foreign" news, but how useful are they?

The value of having full-time foreign correspondents is that they are more than just reporters, they are cultural translators, helping us to interpret and understand events in a different society in a more meaningful way.

Ib that sense they play the same role as diplomats -- serving as the eyes and ears of people back home making sure that we not only know about events but giving us the context that is often lacking.

Yes, local stringers are cheaper and simply voicing over in NYC raw footage taken in Tehran makes business sense, but there is a real loss in the level of analysis and interpretation.

Like so much of the industry today the end result is that we are much richer in raw information and much poorer in making any real use out of it. Voluime does not equal quality.

Posted by: tomhcasey | December 19, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company