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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roy Gutman reflects on the future of foreign correspondents

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roy Gutman reflects on the future of foreign correspondents

Last week, the former European correspondent for Newsday, Roy Gutman, was awarded the key to the city of Sarajevo as well as honorary citizenship to honor him for his reporting of ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-1995 war.

"I'm walking on air," Gutman told Media Gaggle. "It's a terrific honor."

His coverage of the Bosnian war exposed a network of concentration camps run by Bosnian Serbs where mostly Muslim Bosnians were beaten, raped, and often killed. His reporting drew international attention to the Bosnian conflict and led to the closing of a number of these concentration camps. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that these closures saved 5,000 to 6,000 lives.

Gutman's coverage won him much international acclaim, as well as a slew of journalistic awards, including a Pulitzer Prize. But, by 2006, Newsday, which once had half a dozen international bureaus, was moving to close most of them. Gutman soon left the paper, and Newsday, which once had half a dozen international bureaus, shut down its last international bureau in 2007.

"It's a terrible setback for the media industry and the general public. Now there is a very limited selection of news from places that matter. There is an inability to go out there and do things nobody else is doing," Gutman told Media Gaggle about his departure from Newsday.

"Eighteen years ago we had this pluralism of reporters, this wide variety of organizations out there. While the New York Times went to the capitals and stayed there and lived close to the government, others of us had unwritten instructions to do everything but that. And that is where you get journalism - filling in spaces between the big boys. That is so much harder now."

Gutman admits that the costs of running an international news operation can be high, and with the news industry in crisis, only a few big companies can afford to run an international bureau.

Back in 2007, when a number of news organizations shut down their foreign bureaus, Pamela Constable of the Washington Post wrote that a typical newspaper bureau overseas can cost up to $250,000 a year, and a "large, security-conscious news operation in a city such as Baghdad can hemorrhage four times that."

Indeed, an amount of money most newspapers could not afford. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of foreign-based newspaper correspondents went from 188 to 141. The WSJ writes that faced with a number of financial strains, newspapers have turned away from writing about Washington politics and international issues "in favor of local coverage, which is cheaper and less susceptible to duplication on the Internet."

Gutman's exposure of the concentration camps in Bosnia highlights the valuable contribution foreign correspondents can make - from drawing international attention to the plight of young brides in Yemen to shedding light on what war is really like in South Asia.

The future of foreign correspondents

Gutman now works as foreign editor for McClatchy's Washington bureau and oversees four international bureaus. When it comes to the future of foreign correspondents and the business model that will support them, Gutman told Media Gaggle that he sees much potential in the National Public Radio's model.

"I think the NPR model may be the only viable mode other than the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Go out and find outside sponsors for the foreign correspondents. Those positions don't cost much other than salary and expenses."

Gutman; however, does not believe the international news service launched last year, Global Post, can make up for the lack of foreign correspondents and bureaus. For him, this outsourced international coverage initiative is not the solution.

"Every time I look at Global Post I see quantity, not quality." He told Media Gaggle. "They assign people because they are at a certain place - they write a few stories that aren't necessarily of news value or investigative aims. I don't see that as a model."

And, as to those who are still covering the news from international bureaus, Gutman says: remember the pictures and the sources.

"You always have to have photos backing up a story. Have two stories - a hard lead and a feature lead about people that had to be the heart of the story. You have to back up everything you do by going to the people responsible."

Sources: Media Gaggle, McClatchy, Washington Post, WSJ



Maria Conde


2010-04-22 17:35

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