Being a foreign correspondent is a fascinating job, which many desiderate. You get to be the envy of the people back home, in a foreign land that becomes a new home to you, at least for a while. You get to watch history unfold, and furthermore, you get to have an influence on how it gets told. You get to have your fingerprints on the words and images that could shape a generation’s memory of dramatic events and their perception of a country, a people, a revolution, a disaster.
But it can be a very frustrating job too. The levels of frustration involved often have to do with the extent to which you really can do all the above mentioned things, within the editorial confinements imposed on you from the office back home. How free you are to tell the story the way you see it, or to tell it at all sometimes, would depend on many variables.
If you work as a staffer for a big media organisation, it would have something to do with your length of service, experience and reputation, and on your ability to work the internal editorial policy back home. All of those are things you could hardly use when reporting as a freelance for a newspaper or a broadcaster where you do not know your commissioning editors or the people in the studio or at editing table, who will be in charge of which parts of your story the audience gets to view, and in what packaging.
There are trends and fashions in news, just like in anything else. The Middle East is in, Africa is out; natural disasters in, corruption rendered boring. Foreign correspondents develop a dark, grim and cynical sense of humour around this reality. “Black people killing each other still does not interest anybody, unless half of them are Muslim”, a war-beaten reporter said to me recently. And still, this week we’ve registered zero interest from clients regarding the growing tension between Sudan and South Sudan.
“Oh now they want to know” is a common response among correspondents when a story hits the fan, which is, more often than not, when the bodies are starting to pile up and an atrocity is no longer reversible. They feel they’ve been watching the catastrophe looming for weeks, months, sometimes years. But the big media only get interested once the story culminated into uncontrollable violence, biblical famine or unstoppable plague which has finally reached the West, or at the very least, Western people.
A social story pitched from afar by a reporter often invokes a yawn in the editor’s room. However the whole world witnessed last year what one street vendor, Mouhamed Bouazizi, setting himself on fire in protest against social injustice invoked in Tunisia, and how the flames his tortured body burned in had spread across the whole Middle East. Almost any movement for political change; any revolution, coup, protest which captured the attention of millions around the world, had its source in a social grievance, health deprivation, hunger, discrimination. Many reporters watch those seeds of big stories grow and spread, but their stories remain untold until their time comes, if it ever does.
As a news agency committed to two main ideas – meeting the demands of broadcasters for breaking news coverage promptly with the most professional reporting, and making sure correspondents get paid for their work – at GRNLive we often find it hard to help correspondents with such difficulties. We put those stories on our news alert, or try to chat to our clients about them, but at the end of the day, we are not the commissioners; we can not influence the news agendas of our clients, nor do we try to do so.
What we can do is broaden our presentation window. Today we have decided we have what it takes to offer all our correspondents a platform to air those stories, and hopefully convince our clients that those are stories worth commissioning. Tell us your untold story, whether as an article, news item or feature, which we will run as a guest blog, or as a podcast, scripted video, or news package, all of which we will put on display on our YouTube channel. Another option is to have a Skype two-way with us which will serve as a demonstration Q&A on our YouTube channel and website. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will schedule a Skype meeting and make it happen.
Join our conversation: what stories, past and present, from your current base, do you feel are being missed or were missed in the past? Has justice been done to them? Was it too late. Share your own story. Let’s try to get it the treatment it deserves.