Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent, recently reflected on what it means to be a foreign correspondent in the digital age of media. She begins by reflecting on what a foreign correspondence should be. The Guardian, she says, should be "bold distinctive, thoughtful and original as well as, of course, covering the 'news,' ie reacting to events." Moreover, she asserts that foreign correspondents should spend their time in the field, talking to people and finding things out. Essentially, it is the foreign correspondent's job to get out there, not be "chained to their laptops," and do what newsroom journalists can't.
However, she points out, there is a new component to foreign journalism to consider: digital media. With digital information moving at ever increasingly speed, the competition between news sources to provide breaking news has become more intense. Thus, meaning that foreign correspondents have less time to do their job as foreign correspondents and must devote more time to digital media. She notes that finding the balance between fulfilling her job as a foreign correspondent and keeping up with the competition has become particularly difficult since the Guardian integrated its web and paper operations.
Yet, Sherwood wisely notes that "the web revolution is a permanent one, and we need to be nimble in response to the changing media landscape." Indeed, the web revolution presents a slew of perplexing problems for journalists everywhere. And the degree to which journalists can maintain this nimbleness will determine how successful the news industry will be in the future.
But what is particularly jarring about Sherwood's experience is when she says "there were times when I felt my colleagues in London knew better what was happening than I did." Although Sherwood was in the action, her colleagues probably did know more about the situation because they had hundreds of stories at the tips of their fingers zooming around in cyber space.
But then that begs the question: has the role of the foreign correspondent changed? If the correspondent can't take time with a story and the journalistic quality therefore diminishes, does Sherwood's definition of a foreign correspondent remain true? These are questions that cannot be answered today, but the answers will eventually be revealed as time progresses, Sherwood suggests.
While digital media presents many opportunities to foreign correspondents, it is important that they remember their original purpose is quality, on site journalism. Clearly, digital media has already and will continue to change journalism; however, it is imperative that foreign correspondents maintain a sense of journalistic integrity and devotion to quality reporting. But the advent of digital media could simply be another obstacle for foreign correspondents (as if they needed another). As Sherwood suggests "the challenge is to do the story justice in quiet times as well as in busy periods." And this would appear to be a busy period.
Sources: The Guardian