International Journalism


Kevin Williams

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  • Journalism Studies: Key Texts

    Journalism Studies: Key Texts is a new textbook series that systematically maps the crucial connections between theory and practice in journalism. It provides the solid grounding students need in the history, theory, ‘real-life’ practice and future directions of journalism, while further engaging them in key critical debates. Drawing directly from how journalism is studied and understood today, the series is a full-service resource for students and lecturers alike.

    Series Editors: Martin Conboy, David Finkelstein, Bob Franklin

    Published Titles

    Alternative Journalism Chris Atton and James Hamilton

    Radio Journalism Guy Starkey and Andrew Crissell

    Newspaper Journalism Peter Cole and Tony Harcup


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    ‘To cover history from the front row’, they had said. But nobody mentioned the reality that any time I turned up to witness history unfolding it would be from a hermetically sealed grandstand, a peripatetic ‘press tent’ in its many guises, with acolytes to supply pre-digested sound bites, statistics, internet connection, and pre-programmed access to the main players. All in time for deadline.

    PaddySmyth, foreign correspondent, The Irish Times.


    The origins of this book lie in the Masters programme in Journalism Studies at Cardiff University developed in the 1980s by Geoff Mungham and Don Rowlands. This brought students from all over the world to study in a multicultural environment the problems of reporting a rapidly changing world. Many of these students were mid-career journalists who took leave from their jobs to find the space and time – and money – to examine, discuss and debate their working practices and learn from each other about the best ways to report. The course combined theory and practice in the context of the then urgent debate around the establishment of a new international information order. A fair and balanced coverage of the so-called Third World was the demand that united most of the students on the programme. Improving intellectual and technical skills were part of the campaign to attain this objective. Close co-operation between the Masters scheme and the Thomson Foundation facilitated the programme. Several people played their part in delivering the teaching including Trevor Wade, Peter Twaites, Miranda Basner, Tor Ekevall, Paul Moorcraft, Mike Ungerma, Colin Larcombe, Bob Atkins and Brian Winston. But it was the students themselves who were crucial to the success of the programme including Zahera Harb, Bernadette Cole, Mala Jagmohan, Mackie Holder, Nixon Karithii, Linda Nassanga, David Ampofo, Salva Rweymamu, Ichakeli Maro, Manal Kabil and Louise Abbott to name but a few. Special thanks to Edita Nsubuga whose commitment to the programme went beyond the call of duty! They are among the many graduates of the Masters scheme who deserve thanks for the energy, insight and drive they gave to the programme in Cardiff, which helped to establish its international reputation. Sadly Geoff Mungham and Don Rowlands are no longer with us but what they left behind at Cardiff is a testament to their dedication, in particular the inspirational teaching of Geoff Mungham, which galvanised a generation of students from around the world and enabled them to make an improbable global–local connection between the district of Splott in Cardiff and the rest of the planet. The author would also like to thank Bob Franklin for asking him to write this book and his considerable patience in waiting for a manuscript. This was also shared by all those at Sage who also deserve thanks for deciding that it was worth waiting for. Thanks to Imogen Roome and Mila Steele. Several other people are also owed a debt of gratitude for their support of the Masters programme including John Underwood, Norman Cattanach, Jenny Palit, Maggie Griffiths, Aled Eurig, Val Williams and John Foscolo. I would like to thank Hans Henrik Holm for numerous stimulating discussions about the international media and journalism and the many insights he has provided. My colleagues on the Erasmus Mundus in Journalism within Globalization, in particular Monika Pater, Klaus Schoenbach, Peter Neijens, Neil Thurman and Roger Twose, have provided an invaluable reservoir of knowledge and insight. Thanks also to colleagues at Swansea, especially Chas Critcher and Yan Wu, for their willingness to listen to my ruminations about global journalism. Over the years conversations of both a fleeting and substantial nature with distinguished practitioners of foreign news reporting such as Lindsey Hilsum, Francesca Unsworth, Steve Evans and Jos Lemmers have put me back on the straight and narrow. Special thanks to Clare Hudson who has been supportive of all my efforts to make forays into the world of academia. Particular thanks are owed to her for letting me re-use ideas and material cited in her MSc(Econ) dissertation Through Western Eyes: Newsgathering in the Third World (Cardiff University, 1988) I would also like to thank the usual suspects, Marge, Ed, Alan, Frances, Griff, Rowley, Benny the Ball – who was unfortunately neglected in the acknowledgements in previous books – and last but not least Ie who has now left the BBC.

  • Conclusion: Death of the Foreign Correspondent?

    New technology today enables international journalism to instantaneously access multimedia communication networks, products and sources. At the same time these technologies have swept away journalists’ monopoly of international news gathering, forcing a re-appraisal of the role of the foreign correspondent. For some the foreign correspondent is dead; the days of Ed Murrow and James Cameron are long gone. We are now living in a world in which almost anybody anywhere with an internet connection and a laptop can be an international reporter. Technology and the web have undermined the old model of international reporting, as a variety of manufacturers of international content are able to disseminate their product without assistance from the traditional media. People are communicating with each other across national frontiers in a direct and unmediated way. News organisations are recognising the shift; practices are changing and international news is packaged to reflect these developments. In such a world, is there a need for someone who specialises in the gathering of international news and information?

    It may be an overstatement to say that foreign correspondence is dead or even in a state of crisis, but clearly the way foreign correspondents gather, interpret and transmit news from and about faraway places is undergoing a transformation. Technology is driving a great deal of change, and the impact of new media on international journalism can be seen as both beneficial and detrimental. They enable reporters to access more news sources and a broader range of information, send stories and pictures more quickly and more efficiently from the field, as well as provide on-the-spot instant reports of what is happening. However, new technology also leads to a decrease in the capacity and time reporters have to assess the veracity and quality of the information they receive.

    Correspondents are becoming more dependent on internet sources. The quality of the information from these sources is problematic, not least because governments can now intervene more effectively in the news production process to place their spin on international events. Sources have more opportunity to influence the work of the foreign correspondent. Equally significant is the enhanced ability for sources to put their message directly to the audience, bypassing the news media and their correspondents. Journalists’ increased dependency on official sources and a greater propensity to report what they say is facilitated by technological change, but it is encouraged by other factors.

    The changing economic circumstances within which international journalism is practised are a crucial factor. Power within the international newsgathering system has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer organisations whose operational imperatives are increasingly driven by commercial criteria. The number of organisations with an extensive international newsgathering operation has declined and is likely to continue to decline. The cost of maintaining correspondents and bureaus abroad is increasingly seen as prohibitive. Their operations are driven more by profit, making them concentrate on managing costs and diversifying their ventures into other information-related activities besides news gathering. International news agencies such as Reuters have become more integrated into the international economy as their enterprise has come to focus more on financial information and servicing business clients than the provision of general news. The kind of international news provided is also changing as a result of commercial pressures, which lead to the search for stories that maximise audiences. Correspondents are under pressure not only to file more quickly and often but also to generate more dramatic stories. With news organisations becoming part of huge media conglomerates, such as Disney and the News Corporation, these pressures are more keenly felt. Even public service broadcasters such as the BBC are not immune from the need to maximise audiences and minimise costs as they seek to justify the level of public subsidy they receive.

    These organisational changes are accompanied by a significant shift in the occupational culture of the foreign correspondent. The opportunity for the man or woman in the field to resist the pressures from their news desk for this kind of story or that kind of picture is diminishing. Technology has increased the editorial control that news organisations exert over their correspondents as well as reducing the freedom they have to seek out stories, sources and even scoops. The autonomy of the foreign correspondent, with perhaps the exception of a few star names who still have the clout to define their own agenda, has been curtailed. Whether the contemporary correspondent has the inclination to follow his or her intuition and initiate stories has been called into question by many commentators, including some of the doyens of the profession. Ryszard Kapuściński (1999) complained about the disappearance of ‘the former heroes of journalism’ and their replacement by anonymous media workers. The mission, commitment and dedication of the man and woman in the field are seen as on the wane. International journalism has become a business, a corporate activity, in which ‘there is less tolerance for the eccentricities you used to always see in our profession’ (quoted in Cole and Hamilton, 2008: 806). In institutional terms there has also been a transfer in the balance of power from the foreign to the diplomatic and/or defence correspondent. Technology and commercialisation have consolidated the position of the latter, who are believed to be able to cover the world more effectively, reliably and cheaply from home. The decline in the number of men and women in the field is a clear manifestation of organisational and occupational change.

    Some commentators point out that, in spite of the diminishing number of foreign correspondents, we are getting more information from abroad than ever before. Thanks to the new digital technology and the citizen journalist the world is awash with information about what is happening, even in the remotest places. Satellite television brings worldwide media into the living room; live coverage of international events emanates from the international as well as national news channels around the world. Internet users can look for international news on the trillion or so web pages that at the last count are found on the worldwide web, and mobile services such as Twitter deliver instant networks of global information (Harding, 2009). This is the ‘new foreign correspondence’ (Hamilton and Jenner, 2003), in which a variety of different kinds of international news gatherers, in addition to the foreign correspondent, are involved in ‘a system of multiple models co-existing and collectively providing information’ (Cole and Hamilton, 2008: 806).

    Those optimistic about the changes taking place in international journalism believe the rise of the citizen journalist more than makes up for the demise of the foreign correspondent. The world is full of international reporters, albeit of varying competence and capability. Individuals have established their own newsrooms, able to produce a wide array of reports and voices. Citizen journalists have not only increased the diversity of perspectives and viewpoints in international news but also democratised international relations by opening up the closed world of international journalism and making politicians more responsive. The new correspondence is judged to be a considerable improvement on what has gone before. But there are several drawbacks to this brave new world-news order and in many aspects it is no different from the old system, suffering from the same inadequacies and failings which have merely been accentuated by technological and commercial change.

    There is much hype and speculation about the impact of new technology. The internet has increased the amount of international news available to consumers. Some of these sources have added to the range of viewpoints on international events. However, the overall pattern of international news in the new media does not at this stage of its development differ considerably from that of the old media. Web versions of traditional news outlets, news aggregators and the blogosphere reproduce to a great extent the picture of the world highlighted by the MacBride report back in the 1980s. News about the US is still prevalent, reflecting a bias towards the English-speaking world. Some parts of the planet remain barely visible: South America gets very little coverage, neither does Africa. We can access more newspapers’ sites and personal websites from these continents but they still remain small compared to the amount of material on the English-speaking world. What there is primarily reflects the viewpoints of elites in these parts of the world, although NGO websites sometimes provide insights into the lives of ordinary people. The same ‘hotspots’ dominate news in the mainstream media and in cyberspace. Global events or spectacles, such as the World Cup in South Africa or the Beijing Olympics, do draw attention to these parts of the world but it remains true that newly industrialised countries such as India and China are relatively under-reported in relation to their size and population. International news on the web reflects the same news values as the mainstream media as well as drawing on similar sources. There is a high degree of content homogeneity between the main online news websites, including a comparable level of reliance on the international news agencies. Breaking news and event-oriented news also prevail at the expense of context and interpretation. With a few exceptions it is difficult to see a new news order emerging and it is hard not to agree with the conclusion that:

    … there is an abundance of news online, but the content of the mainstream news outlets is largely the same, with different outlets – often with a very different ethos and editorial stance – using identical sources, images and similar text. Further, the news angles provided are often similar. (Redden and Witschge, 2010: 1 84)

    There is still a role for the specialist international news gatherer in the news order that is emerging. The amount of information as well as the variability of its quality means that audiences are going to require a professionally compiled digest of what has happened. Readers, viewers, listeners, surfers, users and tweeters do not have the desire, the time or the knowledge to do this (Harding, 2009). There is still a demand for international journalism. Shifting through and making sense of the increased flow of international information from official sources and the flood of user-generated material require the continued expertise of journalists who can be trusted. At times of crisis people continue to rely on the established news organisations for news of what is going on and it is to these organisations that members of the public send their images, accounts and videos of breaking events. Nearly all the major news organisations and news agencies solicit such material (Bivens, 2008: 117). These organisations still fulfil a gate-keeping function in the international news system, as material from the web often only gains public prominence when it appears in the mainstream media. In assessing the quality of the increased flow of information there remain advantages to having someone on-the-spot who can explain events and put them in context. According to CNN President Jon Klein, ‘anybody who is there automatically knows more, has better insight than anyone sitting in an office’ (quoted in Cheney, 2010). Many web correspondents do not travel; they report the world ‘without ever leaving home, literally as armchair blogsters or figuratively as hyper-connected correspondents glued to their cell phones and laptops’ (Viviano, 2007).

    With their local experience and knowledge, citizen journalists can claim to have intimate and unique insight into local issues and events. Yet is what they produce journalism? Many commentators and practitioners have their doubts, citing the inability of citizen journalists to ask the right questions, to check what they are told, to know what to look for, to care about getting it right and to place events in context (Schmemann, 2010). Tweeting, text messaging, blogging, YouTube postings, and the variety of other inputs that new technology allows people to contribute to the reporting of international events, do not necessarily enhance understanding of what is occurring. As Livingston and Asmolov (2010: 756) state: ‘technology may well be no substitute for good journalism’. Pictures and first-hand accounts through the mobile phones of those involved in breaking events do not necessarily lead to any greater understanding of those events and their wider significance in the society in which they are happening. Audiences still seem to want to see a familiar face, a trusted figure interpreting what is happening. The foreign correspondent not only provides an ‘authoritative, contextualized, interpretative voice’ but also possesses an intimate knowledge of whom he or she is communicating to; not all forms of international ‘reporting’ are seen as carrying the same weight (Viviano, 2008).

    Global change is having an influence on international journalism but there is a tendency in contemporary discussion of what is taking place to exaggerate the novelty of it all. It is striking that the present debate about the impact of technology and commercial change on international journalism resonates with the deliberations that accompanied the arrival of the telegraph, telex and telephone in the late nineteenth century. This should not perhaps surprise us – the late nineteenth century could be interpreted as the ‘first wave’ of globalisation. Assertions that the industry and profession are facing the greatest ever upheaval characterise both eras (Standage, 1999). Suggestions that we need a new form of journalism to respond to the changes and that journalism can ‘save’ the world find similar parallels (Beckett, 2008; Stead, 1886). It is possible to trace the standardisation of international journalism to this earlier period, when western news agencies and newspapers were able to impose their values and practices on the rest of the world through military force and empire. Subsequent media – radio, television and now the internet – have simply speeded up this process, which has increasingly concentrated on the American media as they have consolidated their dominance of the international media system in the postwar years. However, the notion of an emerging homogeneous international journalism is problematic. It is possible to make a distinction between style and substance. Television news around the world looks similar; presentation, packages and formats resemble one another. Even the appearance of the anchors, studios and reporters is remarkably similar – and very American in style. Studies have shown that news values are similar across gender, politics, culture and societies – this has led some to conclude that they are universal (see O'Neill and Harcup, 2009). The evidence is not conclusive; the nature of the international system means that many newsrooms have limited choice in terms of the availability of information. They have to accept what the international news agencies and major global broadcasters provide them with. The ability to select is curtailed – hence the international news agenda is similar in most media systems around the world. However, the treatment of news stories indicates that national perspectives, outlooks and loyalties still play a crucial role in shaping the reporting (for example, Nossek, 2004; Peng, 2008). It may be possible to talk about the universalisation of a US style of journalism, an increasing homogenisation of news structures and a standardisation of the international news agenda but the ways in which international stories are framed, interpreted and explained remain rooted in national cultures.

    The national embeddedness of international journalism reflects the close connections between news organisations and the state and market, as well as the understanding they have of their audiences. Foreign correspondents have always been cosmopolitan in their disposition; most share John Simpson's assertion that ‘we should be telling people more, not less, about the world around them’ (Simpson, 2002: 203). They should also be telling them without fear or favour; but, as we have seen, this is not always possible. There are many ways in which foreign correspondents are locked into their national culture – their own cultural conditioning, their reliance on the state for information, the insistence of the market in satisfying particular audiences and clients, and the requirement to make the story clear and understandable to the folks back home. Much of the research into the emergence of global journalism has focused on how international news organisations such as CNN contribute to global interconnectedness, global citizenship, the sense of belonging to a global community or the building of a ‘global sphere’ (for example, Volkmer, 1999; Hannerz, 1996). Rather than examine what journalism does to the audience, we can postulate about the effect of audiences on the profession. With the mass of the people semi- or fully detached from the international media, national and local values predominate. It is elites who experience what is described as the ‘compression of the world’ and the ‘intensification of consciousness’. Foreign correspondents are part of this ‘transnational’ class who, as a result of empire and international trade, have operated comfortably in a world of cultural difference since the earliest days of the print media. This class and their feelings of cosmopolitanism have extended with the development of international capital. However, their cosmopolitanism has always been anchored within national parameters of understanding. International journalism is devoted to the ‘thematization of difference’ (Cottle, 2009). This reflects their need to satisfy the audience which, in addition to getting a good story and bearing witness to events, is the primary driver of journalism. Reflecting difference is crucial to what international journalism does, telling international events from national and local perspectives.

    The dilemma is whether today's foreign correspondents are able to do the job. There is an idealised notion of the specialised foreign correspondent put forward by the profession and promoted in the autobiographies and books of many foreign correspondents. We have identified in the previous chapters the variety of factors that impair the ability of international reporters to live up to this representation. From practical obstacles such as lack of language skills, limited cultural knowledge, vast territories to cover and short stays on the beat, to broader political, economic, cultural and organisational pressures, foreign correspondents have faced considerable challenges in reporting the world. In the era of globalisation these challenges have multiplied and the traditional correspondent now faces competition from other types of international news gatherer. This competition in some cases extends the range of coverage with the growth of non-western voices and perspectives such as Al-Jazeera in the international newsgathering process. However, it also highlights the limitations under which many correspondents today labour. They are more scrutinised, under greater editorial control, have less job security and exhibit fewer idiosyncrasies; they have less time to check stories and have to fight more for space and air time. Under these conditions, it is fair to ask whether even the most talented foreign correspondent can succeed in conveying the complexities of what is happening in the world today.


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