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future of foreign correspondents

Tuesday 22 April, 2008

I attended this Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs event The Foreign Correspondent: Connecting Chicago and the World featuring former foreign correspondents John Maxwell Hamilton & Richard C. Longworth. Hamilton recently wrote a book on Edward Price Bell, who was America’s 1st foreign correspondent when he opened the London bureau of the Chicago Daily News in 1900.  Longworth was most recently the Chicago Tribune’s senior foreign correspondent based in London.  A few interesting tidbits which came out of the discussion:

-The Chicago Daily News was a progressive pioneer in the news business, being the 1st to sell newspapers before they were distributed, rather than sell them as they were distributed.

-American newspapers invented interviews as we know them today.

Lessons learned from Hamilton:

-maintaining foreign correspondents is expensive for newspapers, so consequently we’ve lost a lot of them

-technology always enables journalists to work as quickly as possible

-competition keeps both business & writers on their toes

-experts are still required to write for their audiences

-newspaper owners must care about foreign service as a public service for it to survive.

Longworth’s contributions:

-1960’s were the heyday when the $ was strong & Time magazine had a staff of 40 in London

-Bretton Woods & the fall of the $ in 1973 spelled the beginning of the end when the # of Time correspondents dwindled to now 2 in London

-the Chicago Tribune still has a dozen foreign correspondents

-the job is still the same, reporting the world for readers @ home, but fewer publications even try to cover the world anymore.  Now most publications are simply platforms of local content.  Even Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism touts going local to the exclusion of international news.  The result is the American public is becoming less informed & more ignorant of the rest of the world.

My take is publishing is simply following the model of the rest of business & outsourcing the reporting of the news to foreign-based local content providers.  They’re much better educated than they used to be & are now capable of playing that role.   They’re much cheaper than sending over expensive foreign correspondents ex-pats too.  We lose the insight of what’s important/interesting to a US-based audience, but if they report the facts accurately & well, that can be better than a locally-based bias/filter anyway.  Technology is also enabling all sorts of media to provide coverage which wasn’t available prior to the internet era.

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