Radio Open Source ("the blog with the radio show") hosted by Chris Lydon aired an excellent show on Monday titled The End of the Foreign Correspondent - I just listened to it today as a podcast. If you're interested at all in the future of global journalism, it's well worth your while.
The show appears to have been inspired at least in part by Ethan Zuckerman's blog post about the extinction of foreign correspondents, in reaction to a paper on the same subject by journalist Jill Carroll. Also note that Ethan wrote another post on Monday just before the show with more observations about American news and information priorities. I added my own reactions to Carroll's paper and Ethan's original post, which led to some interesting comments by Thomas Crampton of the International Herald Tribune, veteran journalist Ellen Hume and others, which (Thomas tells me) led to Thomas being invited as a guest on the show. In the comments thread of a further follow up post that I wrote a couple days later, Thomas shared more insights to the challenges that reporters face when trying to make the world interesting and relevant to different audiences - and to their editors.
There was much discussion on Monday's show about whether bloggers might be replacing foreign correspondents to some extent. It was also pointed out that even though the mainstream U.S. media supports fewer reporters living and reporting around the world than ever before, thanks to the Internet Americans have more access to more news from around the world than ever before - if they choose to seek it out. And that, of course, is the problem. Putting it out there isn't enough to make people care, especially if they also have to spend too much time sifting through it. Which is where the professional journalist and editor comes in - not only finding ways to tell stories that audiences can relate to, but also curating and helping people sift through the flood of information and picking out the stuff that's likely to be relevant and interesting to them. Thomas spoke about how it is his job to spend hours each day following all kinds of online sources that most people who aren't full-time journalists simply don't have the time to follow. So in addition to doing his original reporting and writing, he is also acting as a filter of information for people who trust his judgment.
Another insightful guest on the show was Jon Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The Pulitzer Center is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is "to promote in-depth coverage of international affairs, focusing on topics that have been under-reported, mis-reported - or not reported at all." The Center accepts proposals from journalists who want to cover in-depth global stories but whose news organizations don't have the funds to support the reporting of these stories - or from freelancers who simply wouldn't have the financial backing to do these stories otherwise. When they support the work of freelancers, they also help to "sell" the finished story to various news organizations.
It is interesting that the philanthropic sector is stepping up to support serious international reporting that plays a role in helping the public understand policy issues, but which simply isn't getting covered by for-profit news companies. I hope that the Pulitzer Center will be the first of many such initiatives. Perhaps if we want quality global journalism to survive and thrive, those of us who believe in its importance who have a little extra cash should step up and help support it via non-profit organizations like these - especially if our commercial news brands continue to disappoint when it comes to informing us about global events.
Initiatives like the Pulitzer Center could also help change the relationship between journalists and news companies. It may become easier for journalists to survive as independent freelancers. Global correspondents may decide in growing numbers that they can no longer reliably depend for their livelihoods on a single news organization and on the business decisions being made by that news organization's corporate board. Increasingly, people no longer need to work under the cover of a company's "brand" and reputation in order to do successful journalism. People will discover in growing numbers that they are better off building their own individual journalistic "brands" and reputations and relying on themselves, working with many different news organizations but never putting all eggs in one fickle basket. Perhaps one way to save global correspondence (note I refuse to use the word "foreign") would be to develop consortia of largely independent journalists, via which people could find ways to access seed funding from non-profit as well as for-profit sources for their reporting ventures and projects.