Teaching International Freelance Journalism, Part 2 - A Very Brief History of Foreign Correspondence

From big American and European media organizations with countless overseas bureaus, and distorted patriotic news along the way, of the gilded past when it seemed many foreign correspondents were spies to when they are recruited for becoming spies, to hyper-politicized exiled social media bloggers on hit lists in Bangladesh, and do good, feel good websites promoting all that's fuzzy and warm and positive about the world, fluctuating competition from oil-rich countries and the "South" (think Al Jazeera, Russia Today, teleSUR...), more and more women foreign journalists, camera-toting NGOs, the parachute journalist, the bigfoot, the local fixer, the hired local staff with a political agenda, the local foreign correspondent (covering "foreign news" from his own country), (for many of these variations and more check this list), foreign correspondence, of the "westernized" / mainly corporate or state-controlled media types, has run the gamut over the past 100 plus years.

A Bewildering Ride

It's been a bewildering ride of interest, disinterest, growing budgets, slashed budgets, prestige and lost prestige, immunity and death, the foreign correspondent as an almost royal figure in a white suit walking over corpses in faraway land, to citizen media journalists posting unfiltered but always difficult to authenticate information from their cell phones as it happens. This article written in 2003 already foresaw the "fading elitism" of the craft. Some say foreign correspondents sometimes even changed the course of history itself.

Above is a video of a conference taking students back to the Colonial days of America and how foreign correspondence looked then. Here's an excellent q and a from 2009 with the writer of Journalism's Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting , who is in the YouTube video above.

Long and Short Papers

Here's a well-researched and written paper which broadly traces the past 100 years of foreign correspondence. Here's a much longer paper on the topic of "redefining foreign correspondence", if that's your thing. A shorter version of that paper, "Evolution not Extinction" made it into the Nieman Lab in 2004. In the "are foreign correspondents redundant vein?" from 2013, here's another long, but well-researched paper.

Screengrabbed above and linked here is a very well put together slide show on the history of foreign correspondence from the 1880s to the present day, focusing mostly on U.S. media.

The Disruptive Power of Cell Phones Here and Everywhere

Cell phones replacing journalists is a popular but simplified way to look at the evolution of our source of information from around the world. Here's a well-researched paper from the Tow Center on Digital Journalism on the topic. Here's a student article on international citizen journalism social media.

Here is the former broadcast royalty of foreign correspondence CBS News relying for its coverage in Syria on cell phone videos in 2012. Here again "CBS News" relies on a compilation of videos posted on YouTube.

Above is an international news training organization helping local villagers reporting their own news with cell phones.

Below is a video explaining how cellphone videos were used in the investigative, documentary film called "Dirty Wars" about military drone attacks and its civilian victims.

The in·dom·i·ta·ble Citizen Journalist

Is the citizen journalist the new journalist, including the new foreign correspondent? Here's a definition from freebase.com of the citizen journalist ....

The concept of citizen journalism is based upon public citizens "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information." Similarly, Courtney C. Radsch defines citizen journalism "as an alternative and activist form of newsgathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a repose to shortcoming in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism." Jay Rosen proposes a simpler definition: "When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another." Citizen journalism should not be confused with community journalism or civic journalism, both of which are practiced by professional journalists. Collaborative journalism is also a separate concept and is the practice of professional and non-professional journalists working together.

This article has an interesting headline and premise, how foreign reporting needs to rely more and more on communities and social media, rather than contacts and old fashioned on the ground work.

The foreign correspondent is also increasingly being asked to act like a citizen journalist, working around the clock, on all platforms, that is until there's blowback and the journalist is suspended for acting too much like a citizen journalist.

An Early Funeral?

The "demise of the foreign correspondent" is a tried and true topic for former foreign correspondents. Is it a "slow death" as this French freelance journalist bemoans? Check out this well written article in a 2007 Washington Post. Here's one on the "decline" of foreign correspondents from Britain. Here's one in Time, on brace yourselves, the "death of the foreign correspondent" from 2008. Here's one on the "transition" of foreign desks. Here's one on feeling "lonely" at the foreign desk. This one is the "It's Just Not Like It Used to Be" vein. But following up on that, this one says freelancers are more vital than ever.Should the future correspondent of foreign news be local or foreign?

As this Guardian opinion piece from 2010 is titled brilliantly, though, with references throughout the article itself: The foreign correspondent is dead. Long live the foreign correspondent

If you enjoyed this lesson plan, here are all the chapters in My Guide to Teaching International Freelance Journalism.

Part 1, Geographies


Part 2, A Brief History Until Today


Part 3, Before You Go


Part 4, Potential Clients


Part 5, When You First Arrive


Part 6, Surviving the Game


Part 7, Books and Films To Educate and Inspire


Part 8, Perceptions


Part 9, Ethical Considerations


Part 10, Migrations and the Other


Part 11, Going Glocal


Part 12, Musings, Behind the Scenes and Critiques


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