As previously reported, digital newsgathering and increasing economic pressure have taken a toll on the number of foreign correspondents. Newspapers and publications have been forced to close foreign desks, make budget cuts to international services, and outsource stories.
To combat this trend, initiatives like the one of WorldCrunch attempt to fill in the gap through translation. WorldCrunch provides local news stories from across the world, and attempts to do foreign correspondents' old job: interpret events and put them in local contexts for Anglophone readers. A few other publications have related projects, notably Le Courrier International, a French weekly that translates publications from all regions of the world, and offers side-by-side comparisons on similar issues. An Italian paper, l'Internazionale, does a similar task.
Although this approach provides for some comprehensive coverage of international events, it remains expensive to maintain, and must compete against other press that presents local news that readers may consider more relevant.
Another model for foreign correspondence relies on outside funding. The International Reporting Project used to concern itself with training journalists properly for 6-week investigative stints in foreign countries. IRP's trainees went on to publish in newspapers all over the US. As the role of foreign journalism has shifted, so have the organization's goals. It now provides funding that allows applicants (almost two-thirds of which are freelancers) to report abroad. NPR follows a similar model. While it maintains foreign bureaus, they are sustained through outside funding.
This week, Ying Zhang proposed a new approach to reporting foreign news in the Online Journalism Review, one that does not rely on sponsors or on translating articles from different country. The proposal can be found here.
By creating online "clubs" geared towards Americans with language-learning and academic aims, Zhang claims to have found the panacea to making foreign reporting profitable. The clubs would offer high quality information about the texture of foreign societies or stories, and would supposedly appeal to everyone from job-seeking Americans to journalists to government contractors.
Zhang cites examples of Chinese press discussing the US' financial problems before the 2008 economic meltdown, and claims that clubs could have allowed for diffusion of this information in the US as well. It is unclear how the clubs could spread information more successfully than a publication like WorldCrunch already does. However, Zhang does point out that some foreign newspapers have different standards of journalism, and a simple translation would not filter out government propaganda or half-truths.
Although Zhang presents the clubs as way for journalists to comprehensively interpret foreign news, his goals seem to be tempering foreign "hatred" of the US and allowing for people to practice high school language skills. Although the benefits of international understanding are surely quite high, it is doubtful that any private, subscriber based club would attract enough users to heal diplomatic disputes or media misunderstandings across continents.
The clubs focus heavily on the American side of the equation, describing how educators, multi-national corporations, and journalists could benefit from such a service. However, the proposal fails to describe how the international component would work, including how it would attract useful subscribers in foreign countries.
Zhang's ambitions are in the right place, but could they be enough to reverse current trends in foreign correspondence?
Photocredit: Rotten Tomatoes