Jan 16 2012

Some Like it Hot – The Next Big Story

One of the most popular sporting pastimes among news journalists is attempting to assess where the next big news story is going to erupt. For many, it is not just an intellectual hobby, but the answer to the question “will I make some money, have a fascinating time and make a name for myself or will I be fumbling my thumbs in one corner of the world when the earth is rocking (sometimes literally) at the other end?”

In an interesting discussion at the Frontline Club last week. GRN correspondents Ruth Sherlock and Tom Finn expressed two very different approaches. Tom was advocating following your passion for a place, grounding yourself in a country and living among its people, becoming an expert. The story is bound to happen one day. Ruth said she likes following the stories as they break, bouncing from one country to another and picking on the news as it is hot.
At GRN’s editorial desk we like a combination of both kinds of correspondents to make the perfect mix. It is good to know that we have people on the ground that have immersed themselves in a country, know its politics and society in depth and are going to be there long before the media convoy starts making its way in and finding its way around. We are equally happy to discover, when a story breaks and the demand for coverage grows, that we have among our correspondents those who are happy to quickly pack their toothbrush and 8 phone chargers (and, Ruth reminded us at the talk, twice more underwear than deems necessary), and parachute themselves into the scene (don’t forget to call us for help with getting insurance). Journalism would not exist without both approaches.

But where to go? We get asked this question almost daily by freelance reporters wanting to head “somewhere interesting”, hoping their choice would grant them some work. It is important to remember that a hot spot for news might be something where the big agencies already have staff reporters in (Jerusalem, Washington). That said, in some other usual suspects stories the cost of keeping a correspondent long term is so high that broadcasters stick with the GRN freelance model through thick and thin (Islamabad, Baghdad, Kabul).

Many mention Cyprus and Turkey as a story ready to break, oil drills in the sea getting Turkey and Israel agitated. Something is always bound to kick off in Tehran, and everybody is waiting for South America to make its big political comeback (earthquakes and mining disasters notwithstanding). Harriet Martin in her piece for GRN today argues that it is very possible that war would break between North Sudan and South Sudan over oil transit fees. And what is about to happen in North Korea? With AP’s newly opened bureau in Pyongyang, would the country open itself to international scrutiny, or shall we all keep watching it through the eyes of our correspondents in Seoul? And where will the next natural disaster hit?

Experience proves that learned guesses and profound analysis often help the prediction of grand news events with as much accuracy as a degree in veterinary medicine assists a gambler at the bookies. In hindsight, we can all say that the writing was on the wall in Tunisia, in Yemen, in Egypt, in Libya, in Syria, that dictatorships can not last forever. But the paint on the writing ran dry years ago, and nothing happened. Hindsight does not make one pack a backpack and go into the past.
Sometimes you just get lucky. One of GRN’s favourite mythical stories is that of Ben Judah, who while travelling in order to write a story for a tourism magazine found himself to be the only western journalist in Bishkek, Kirgizstan, just as the first international news story in this country in decades broke and thousands were rioting in the capital and across that vast and under covered country.
What are your insights? Where are you going, or would you go if you could follow your hunch or analysis regarding the next big story?

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