The possibilities are endless, “it just takes a little bit of openness”

A number of us have argued for years that local newspapers A.) need more international coverage on issues that affect their local readers and B.) those same newspapers don’t need to set up foreign bureaus to do it.

The solution to the first issue is difficult because it requires editors and reporters to see the local:global connection. Too often the publishers’ and bean-counters’ cries of “Local! Local! Local!” drown out the idea that local is connected to national and international events. So, reports on the economic situation of the home country that owns the local American factory are often ignored.

The solution to the second issue is easier. There are hundreds if not thousands of freelancers around the world. And we can produce pieces that show the local-global connection. Or, at a least, we can produce a story that is more focused than the AP or other wire services.

Great interview in the AV Club from The Onion this week on the second point. (And yes, even though this is The Onion, the interview is very real.)

Dave Eggers on his favorite things about newspapers

The part that jumped out at me was:

At any given moment in the world, there’s 100,000 possible correspondents that you could have. I think there’s great value to the Associated Press and to Reuters, too, but if you wanted to generate original content, maybe written by local writers, it just takes a little bit of openness to open your pages up to a wider freelance writer pool, and then you might find new voices and a wider array of voices, and definitely more original content that can’t be found anywhere else. All that wire stuff, that’s free, and I don’t think you’re gonna put that genie back in the bottle. Newspapers are gonna have to think, “Okay, what can we do uniquely well? What are we gonna give you that can’t be had anywhere else?”

Granted, he is talking about local coverage but the same idea can be applied for international coverage.

In the past 15 years of being a freelancer in five different countries, editors regularly told me as I pitched a story about major events: “Well, if it’s important enough, the AP will cover it.”

Fortunately for me, about 10 year ago the Washington Times did not have that attitude. They looked at what I offered and what the AP offered. And the WT regularly took my pieces. Largely because I looked at stories the AP did not do because they have to address a larger audience. I offered more focused pieces that fit better into the WT readership needs.

Absolutely I received loads of rejection notes from the WT if what I was suggesting was too close to the AP story. (The usual comment: “Why pay twice for the same story?”)  And I agree.

Yet in a time when what happens economically and politically in other countries directly affects just about every citizen in the country, for U.S. news organizations to be withdrawing from the world is nigh on criminal.

ABC News and NPR have expanded their international coverage using a combination of full-time reporters and stringers using the latest technology. Large bureaus with large staff are no longer needed. (The ABC mini-bureaus are an exciting experiment.) And the CBS News partnership with GlobalPost also offers a new way to get international news without breaking the bank.

So why aren’t other news organizations looking at getting professional journalists around the world more involved with their reporting needs?

A lot really does depend on publishers and bean counters releasing editors from the mantra of only local coverage. And it requires editors with an understanding that the world is not just “out there” but is at each person’s doorstep now.

I recall an adage about good journalism and I am not sure I have it exactly right, but the essence is: “Good journalism is not just what the people want but what they need.”

And what the American people really need is a better understanding that the rest of the world is not made up of only countries involved in wars, natural disasters or coups. There are a lot of “process” stories that need to be told that will, in turn, help Americans better understand why a Dutch owned factory in a small U.S. town is either expanding production or shutting down.

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3 Comments

Filed under International News Coverage

3 responses to “The possibilities are endless, “it just takes a little bit of openness”

  1. Pingback: Journalism and the World » Blog Archive » All it takes is some imagination and openess

  2. John Hopkins

    Dave Eggers is wrong to say the wires are free. Certainly the use of an AP story doesn’t incur an incremental cost for the editor filling a news hole, but her shop is paying substantially for access to the service. It’s the smart use of the wire that’s most important. Running the 14th writethru of whatever story CNN is obsessed with today may be less important than staying with the version that included a voice from one’s hometown industry or a traveler from the next suburb over. A smart news editor is always on the prowl for the wire piece that illuminates or explains what his own audience experiences. The AP report is so broad and deep that any alert editor should find something every day that really works for the hometown market.

    Hire stringers? Sure, but not simply to get a story that’s different from the AP one seen on Yahoo. If the stringer really can make the local-global connection, though, that’s golden — and Dan is right on target.

  3. Pingback: LPT » Twitter Can Haz Zombie Stringers?

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