Nieman Foundation at Harvard
What journalists and independent creators can learn from each other
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 29, 2009, 7:52 a.m.

Paying for foreign reporting requires creative financing

Whether the shuttering of foreign bureaus by metropolitan newspapers and some TV networks in recent years — to refocus efforts stateside as budgets tightened — was a good thing or bad is certainly worthy of debate.

But what is certain is that, as a result, there are now fewer reporters covering fewer stories in foreign countries for American news organizations.

Some of those that do remain are still in the employ of the few remaining deep-pocketed organizations with bureaus. But an increasing number are independent or loosely confederated reporters, chasing stories first and finding buyers for them second.

Organizations such as the recently launched — a rare news startup with an international focus — features a mix of staff and freelance correspondents who cover the world for American eyes, both directly through the site and through syndication.

It’s a lean operation — paying reporters about $1,000 a month, according to PBS MediaShift:

The correspondents are on long-term contracts, so they can depend on that monthly stipend for some of their income, but they are expected to file weekly 800-word text reports with photos or video reports and are encouraged to blog in their Reporter’s Notebooks.

Jason Overdorf, a former editor at Dow Jones and currently a special correspondent for Newsweek, is now also a GlobalPost correspondent in India…  “The reality of being a foreign correspondent today is that you’re no longer going to be able to live like an expat in a hardship posting — or at least not very many people are. GlobalPost pays very little from the standard point of view I take as a freelancer — either a word rate or a day rate…[But] I know I’m getting four stories a month — which is a commitment that most ‘strings’ don’t give you.”

Other efforts are of an even smaller scale. The International Reporting Project — a fellowship supported by The Johns Hopkins University — is quietly underwriting foreign reporting for a media world that doesn’t seem to want it very much anymore.

As the genetics of the news business are jumbled and transformed, the IRP has also sought to remake itself. Formed 11 years ago, the Project has helped ready more than 150 journalists for careers overseas, whether they have ended up there or not. It has offered a handful of others the time and space to write books on foreign affairs and the United States’ role in them, and sent more than 100 editors and news producers to countries American readers and viewers hear little about in hopes that they will see the value in running more international news stories. Its initial goal was to teach young and midcareer reporters how to become old-fashioned, shoe leather-expending foreign correspondents.

But no more. A downturn in international journalism, reflected in a 25 percent decline in the number of American newspaper reporters based in foreign countries since the turn of the millennium, led the IRP to shift gears. Merely educating journalists about international reporting is no longer enough. “If our mission in the past was to train the next generation of foreign correspondents, well, maybe there won’t be a next generation of them, at least in the traditional sense,” says John Schidlovsky, the Project’s founder and director, and a former Asia correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. “So, we’ve changed. We increasingly see ourselves as content originators in this new style of nonprofit journalism.”

The article on the IRP provides an in-depth look at the issues facing today’s foreign correspondents. Reporters like Ruxandra Guidi — a veteran who’s reported for the BBC and NPR — who feel the need and responsibility to cover the world yet have no expense account to support them, are cobbling together a living with freelance fees and foundation support.

The $4,500 travel stipend that each Project fellow receives pays for five weeks on the ground, including food and lodging, as well as language interpreters and “fixers” — natives who help reporters navigate their way through cultural and geographical thickets. “The Project is one of very few fellowships to give money to freelancers,” Guidi says. “Even though there are a number of talented freelancers out there generating their own stories, it’s an expensive thing to do. So a lot of people end up teaching English or taking on side stories to make ends meet. It’s rare to get the chance to concentrate on just one story for any length of time.”

What do you think — are there enough resources focused on international reporting? If you had ten open reporting positions, would you assign any of them to foreign, or would you leave overseas reporting to the wires, freelancers and strategic partnerships?

(A number of disclosures for this post: I work for Johns Hopkins University, which funds the IRP, and the author of the article cited above is a colleague. I did not participate in the reporting of the article and, in fact, was not aware of it until someone pointed it out, post-publication. Also the Nieman Foundation has a few associations with Global Post. Charlie Sennott, the top editor, is an ex-Nieman Fellow and a friend of the foundation’s and our curator, Bob Giles, is on Global’s advisory board.)

POSTED     Jan. 29, 2009, 7:52 a.m.
Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What journalists and independent creators can learn from each other
“The question is not about the topics but how you approach the topics.”
Deepfake detection improves when using algorithms that are more aware of demographic diversity
“Our research addresses deepfake detection algorithms’ fairness, rather than just attempting to balance the data. It offers a new approach to algorithm design that considers demographic fairness as a core aspect.”
What it takes to run a metro newspaper in the digital era, according to four top editors
“People will pay you to make their lives easier, even when it comes to telling them which burrito to eat.”