Foreign correspondents

Ethan’s recent post entitled “300 foreign correspondents overseas. And 3,000 in Washington DC?” made for interesting reading. The post was inspired by an Open Source show entitled “The End of the Foreign Correspondent?”

In my opinion, the problem of cutbacks in staffing foreign bureaus is compounded by the focus on the same old gloom and doom or trite stories when coverage is provided (any guesses as to how many foreign correspondents are covering the war in Iraq vs. the relatively calm post-election situation in DRC). One example, several months ago I was approached by a journalist from a very well-respected international paper. The journalist (a foreign correspondent in the East Africa bureau) wanted to do a piece on Mzalendo as an example of how Kenyans are trying to improve accountability within government etc. I spent almost two hours chatting with the guy. The story has never made it to the press. Last I heard, it was shelved because of the Madonna adoption brouhahaha. Maybe Mzalendo just wasn’t a compelling enough story. Or maybe, God forbid, it was actually a positive story about Africa that didn’t tie back to some massive donor/NGO intiative or that didn’t involve overcoming disease, war, insert tragedy here ____________.

Anyway, I was going somewhere with this post.

In, response to the cutbacks in foreign correspondents, Ethan likes Rebecca MacKinnon’s notion of “glocal” coverage i.e. global stories with a local connection. Ethan writes, “What could be a better resource for this than bilingual journalists living and working in DC with connections to their home communities? Who’s going to do a better job of reporting on Somalia in the USA than the Somali reporters covering their country in their native language for an audience in Somalia?”

I ask, how about staffing foreign bureaus with local journalists? It might not always be practical in all cases but it could be an interesting model. For instance, SABC Africa (their website sucks, but I find their coverage of African news especially in the a.m. and their specials on Africa, to be quite good) has hired Linus Kaikai (a Kenyan journalist) to head their office in Kenya and has adopted a similar model in other African countries where they have offices. Every couple of months someone from the head office in Joburg travels to the bureaus to make sure things are going well etc.

Now that’s glocal.

11 comments to Foreign correspondents

  • KP: I am sure we all know it but sometimes would wish to “wish it away” that: Western media love it when stories of Africa conform to some predefined “expectations?” of mirery, as you wrote.

    I believe (98%) that the intention is something like: “see guys, we told ya, nothing good comes out of your ya”

    The tragedy? That our “own” media, instead of seeking ways to help counter this among our people whose minds are already so -vely set , seem to help perpetuate the western established notions. (Why are there so many in africa who imagine that life in the west is indeed as seen on TV/movies?) But again probably people who run “our” media are also so “educated” into those western ways that they cannot change.

  • acolyte

    I think as time goes by the U.S media is becoming more and more focussed on self. It also doesnt help that very many media outlets here in the states are owned by the the 4 or so mega media corporations. So you end up having one correspondent’s work being aired on multiple stations, thus reducing the variation available for viewers to make informed opinions and decisions.
    Plus positive news about Africa just doesnt seem to sell in the West. The media in the West lost objectivity in my eyes a long time ago because they have made news a product and not a source of information.
    I do hope that if the stations cut down on foreign corresponedents, they shall pick up news pieces from local stations instead of airing their own biased views.

  • i think the media in US is quite wide – the mainstream media exists to make a profit nd really there is no two ways about it – i tend to think that american dont watch as much news as other culturee i think mainly because are many more options available (70 channels + on cable ) and given the american system where people work for very long hours – i mean who wants tocome from work only to watch lou dobbs ranting about whatever bullshit he rants abouts.

    also most of then news covered is generally local – things like so and so cat was stcuk in the tree or about the mayor in some local scandals – i comapre this with kenya growing up
    first of all the channels were limited for example then we only had one then two channels – the only local news was moi and hes church services ontheother hand we had amost 24 hrs of CNN

    so really i was more informed about teh US and the US politics than kenyan news for example thinsg like city hall or trash not beiong collecetd or parking issues. local school issues or traffic are never covered on the other hand thats is what is
    mainly covered in local news buletins

    now if i want to watch or read intl news i do have options limited as they maybe – there islinktv, pbs bbc and the internet – my gut feeling is that the avg american desnt care for it – i think most peopel around the world wouldnt care for intl news if they had more local news and entertainment options

  • The US also has books.
    A new book every week for just about every hot story.
    And these are written by journalists.
    As for foreign, other than Iraq, the better stories are in the non-political mags-ie economics, finance, IT etc and research pubs.

  • acolyte

    @ Louis
    The media in the States isnt as wide as you think it is. Pure hard news makes up a very small amount of what is on TV. Even the “news” channels do alot of repitition. Other channels have as little news as possible and concentrate on other programs that pull viewers ie sports and drama.
    You will also find that many of the small stations are owned by various large stations whom in turn are owned by the big corporations. When it comes to news the big wigs are Foxnews, CNN and MSNBC. Local news reporting in the States too has taken a nosedive, as one writer puts it;
    Roughly half of all the newshole on local TV news that was not given over to weather, traffic and sports was devoted to crime and accidents. Stories about local institutions, government, infrastructure, education and more were generally relegated to brief anchor reads in the middle of the newscast.
    News is expensive to produce so more and more stations are getting their national news feeds from their parent stations. So the variety of news that people get here isnt as wide as people think.
    @ Alexcia
    New books are being written everyday, but what percentage of the population is reading them? That explains why novels/books are so expensive in the States! Visit your local barnes and nobles and see.

  • Ory, LOL at interviews that never make it to the press.

    Aco, the average american, including me these days, couldn’t care less about these news channels.
    I never watch the “local news” or the “world news”, or even CNN or Fox–i’d rather listen to NPR and read “featured news” on yahoo and the free pages on NY times.

  • @ aco
    options exist its just that it doesnt matter – i mean i dont know about most countries but i dont knwo of countries that have more news outlets than the US – i only about the US and kenya now based on my exp in kenya kenya is worse for a poulation of 30M there is only like 2 major newspapers – comapre that with california. then look at the magazines and periodicals available.

    what counts for diivrese news in kenya is pretty much intl propaganda machines – bbc,cctv,sky.

    news isnt really popular – i like pbs and shit and everybody talks about pbs but try to put the channel on pbs when ur pals are around .

  • acolyte

    @ louis
    I do agree that Kenya is faring rather poorly when it comes to news esp print media. We are faring abit better when it comes to radio with the proliferation of FM stations in Kenya.
    But I do think that magazines and periodicals cant be mentioned in Kenya because of the prohibitive cost of making a magazine in Kenya. Making a magazine on glossy newsprint will ensure that you have to sell your magazine for around 200/= to break even, one the other hand I paid $15 the other day here for a 2 year magazine subsciption. So unless the gvt does something about newsprint and other issues related to magazine and newspaper production we shall always have only the 2 big papers to fall back on.
    Add to the fact that most Kenyans dont have the discretionary income to use on magazines.
    But I still retain the stance that there is less choice in news in the states then people think. There are loads of channels where people talk about and analyse the news but when it comes to reporting on fresh incidents on the ground as they happen, there are less than 10 cable channels that are doing so out of the hundreds available. But as you and alexcia put it, it isnt like the people care.

  • anyone recal THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (a bk about journalism in Africa by some mzungu guy)?

  • I find that blogs and other social media have started counteracting what has evidently been a gap in mainstream media in terms of news. The problem with Africa, is that while the news is relevant in some places, it might not get to a larger audience due to communication. Case in point: M&G, News 24, Nation and All Africa are the only African Newspapers in 52 countries that have RSS! In Ethiopia during their invasion of Somalia, the people there didn’t know anything was going on. News is blanked out and international media are the only ones covering these events.

    I feel Africans na wakenya have to raise and upgrade their own media organizations. When the Arabs felt they didn’t have a valid voice in the world, one perceptive sheik decided to provide just that. Al Jazeera was born this past November were granted license to broadcast worldwide. Arabian news by Arabs and addressing the issues they want to address on the international stage.

  • i have visited this blog a few times now and i have to tell you that i find it quite exeptional actually. keep it up!

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