A publication of the World Editors Forum


Fri - 19.01.2018

We still need foreign correspondents

We still need foreign correspondents

"In times of economic pressure, sending a foreign correspondent who expects to be treated like a TV star is too expensive."

"Foreign correspondents tend to report just from their perspective and from the one of their audience."

"Foreign correspondents are out of date, we have Twitter and social networks, blogs, aggregators now providing news from everywhere and moreover we can just hire local journalists. We don't need to send correspondents to cover news anymore."

These are some of the criticisms raised regarding the role of the foreign correspondent in this day and age.

So we do still need them?

This provocative question opened the panel "Death of the foreign correspondent?" yesterday at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.

Charlie Beckett, director of the think tank POLIS at the London School of Economics, Mimosa Martini, correspondent for the Italian Channel 5 News, Mort Rosenblum former Associated Press correspondent and Richard Sambrook, until March 2010 director of the BBC's Global News division and author of the book "Are Foreign Correspondents Redundant?" discussed the subject.

"This is a jet-age tower of babel. Everybody's talking, nobody's listening", said Mort Rosenblum. "Anyone that has covered Middle East for twenty minutes knows it's not a domino effect, it's more complex, it's backgammon. We need people who can explain, someone prepared to explain us what's going on. We need professional correspondents."

The role that Twitter and other social media played in the Arab World uprisings is significant. But Rosenblum noted that it's not enough: "we have got to be in place, know the story before it happens. We have to understand,"he said.

Martini agreed that only the experience and the preparation of a long-time foreign correspondent could provide a fully context comprehension, distinguishing between facts and propaganda.

However, she said, citing cost-cutting for reducing the role of the foreign correspondent, it's in part just unfounded as new technologies allow journalists to do their job for cheaper. She cited her experience in Egypt, when she remained without her cameramen and she managed to produce reports single-handedly with her computer and her camera.

The role of foreign correspondent is changing fundamentally, however. As Richard Sambrook said, "we need to be farmers rather than hunter-gatherers of information". The answer to the title of his book ["Are Foreign Correspondents Redundant?"], he said, is not no, but rather "no, but".

Social media can now to an extent compete with news outlets and because of globalisation it has become more difficult to be a foreign correspondent. But they still play the important role of cultural bridge - between what they are reporting on to whom they are reporting too. Even if he/she has to adapt himself to changing times, the foreign correspondent is needed now as much as they have ever been. Sambrook also agreed on the role Twitter is playing. "Connections are fundamental, but they are not presence. You need to have a proper background to be able to verify news on Twitter."

Then we still need an accurate witnessing of events, deciphering and setting them in local context and interpreting of what is going on in this particular place, at this particular time, in a broader comparative and historical frame. As Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian, "Witnessing, deciphering, interpreting".

Sources: IJF, Guardian



Federica Cherubini


2011-04-15 21:07

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