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Make foreign coverage less foreign

“There will always be a difference in how a story is framed, edited, and told by a journalist who gets to leave at the end of the day and one who is at home in the circumstances and community of the story.”

My prediction, my hope, for journalism in 2019 is that we invest more in diversity in international reporting — and that we get better at explaining the world and what it means to be a person in it.

In a world where nationalism is on the rise, where there are 258 million migrants, where the themes of migration, immigration, and asylum continue to dominate headlines and political discourse, we need more nuanced coverage of the people and countries beyond our own borders.

A vital and necessary starting point is to have a diversity of voices and perspectives making international journalism. This argument has long been made, and with good reason: When our journalists come from different backgrounds, it enhances and enrichens our journalism. They bring different lived experiences to their reporting and different angles they might focus on. They have different access to sources, and they train their lens on different subjects and frame stories in varied ways.

There will always be a difference in how a story is framed, edited, and told by a journalist who gets to leave at the end of the day and one who is at home in the circumstances and community of the story.

Which is why we need diversity, not only in our local and national newsrooms, but also in our international coverage, which is often dominated by Western journalists, white reporters, men. Foreign correspondents can often bring fresh eyes to the regions they cover — but we need to hear more from the people who live in the places we report on.

What would our international coverage look like if we handed the reins over to locals to report on the countries where they live, whose cultures, histories, and politics they are intimately familiar with? What would a day of news coverage look like if women from around the world were our assignment editors and reporters? Which stories would they choose to tell, and how would they frame those stories?

What if the stories of immigrants and migrants seeking to come to America were told exclusively, for a day, by immigrants and migrants looking to come to America? What if our reporting better described people — who they love, what they fear, how they live — beyond their nationality and migration status? What if we knew, not only about the grueling journey of refugees, but also about brides, midwives, and football matches in refugee camps? About the homes and traditions they left behind, and the trepidation and anticipation with which they embarked on their journeys? What would our homepages, social feeds, and push alerts look like?

What forgotten stories would we shine a spotlight on? Which oft-silenced voices would be amplified?

There’s a lot of good, nuanced reporting out there. But we need more. I hope in the next year, we hear from more people who are at home in the countries, cultures, and circumstances we’re covering, not just from foreign correspondents parachuting in for a few weeks, months, or years.

Masuma Ahuja is an independent journalist covering gender, migration, and human rights.

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