Are foreign correspondents disappearing?
Most journalism students enter the school wanting to end up in far away places, reporting about international issues. That competition and the traditionally small number of places available have made the role of foreign correspondents very prominent.
This is especially true when it comes to TV journalists. Most times the decision about sending a correspondent to a foreign country depends more on status privileges for the network than on journalistic reasons. In fact, agencies could supply the same or even better footage than the correspondents’ –and many outlets actually use a combination of footage from both.
The widespread use of mobile phones with acceptable camera resolution and access to the internet has opened the market to citizen journalists too.
To be fair, citizen journalists have always been used by foreign reporters. Correspondents, as outsiders, cannot have access to inside stories like a local. Therefore they have to rely on their fixers or other local journalists.
What is happening right now is that the local reporters and citizen journalists are able to bypass the foreign correspondent and reach the media outlets without intermediaries. And this is transforming the role of foreign correspondents.
Callum MacRae, producer and director for Channel 4’s documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, stated in a recent discussion (52:07) among journalists that “instead of getting to the people so they tell us their story, they are sending it to us”.
This makes effectively the foreign correspondents –or their substitutes back at home- editors or curators. Neil Arun, international editor, says that while he was in Iraq he didn’t know at times if he was more of “a journalist or an editor”.
Considering the risks that journalism sometimes implies and the little benefit made from sending a reporter to a far away area, most media outlets are relying more in citizen journalists.
However, MacRae thinks that networks still need at home a careful process to “assess and analyze the footage” produced by citizen journalists but they should “stop being scared of it”.
“People who can give you the information in particular situations are going to be part of the situation” continues MacRae. Obviously certain concerns are going to arise regarding impartiality and quality, but MacRae states that he believes in “truth, not impartiality”.
In the end, it is the same information their correspondents would get on the ground. The only difference is that instead of editing it in Iraq, it is edited in London.
You can watch both Callum MacRae and Neil Arun in this panel from the Frontline Club in the video below.
Image: Frontline Club