Becoming a foreign correspondent still appeals to many beginners in the field, but reporting foreign affairs has changed dramatically in recent years. While both the contents and structures of foreign reporting frequently receive various criticisms, emerging methods such as cross-border collaborative journalism offer promising avenues to address shortcomings and overcome inequalities in the making of international news. The new e-learning course on foreign coverage developed in the NEWSREEL2 project aims to provide journalism students and practitioners alike with an overview of these developments.
The challenges for foreign reporting are plentiful: Permanent correspondents have been made redundant or must cover larger and larger areas. They are often replaced by “parachutists” who are sent to international news hotspots for only a short time, sometimes lacking precise knowledge about the local conditions and culture. Shrinking budgets reduce the ability of newsrooms to invest in the particularly expensive field of foreign reporting. Moreover, newsrooms face vivid debates about properly paying and crediting their local aides, the so-called fixers or stringers.
The field has also seen discussions on unequal news flows, West-centrism in international news, or the influence of colonial heritage and cultural bias. At the same time, digital technologies arguably made the sharing of news across the globe easier than ever before, while glocalization increasingly blurs the lines between “national” and “international” news. Projects such as our project partner Hostwriter’s feminist cross-border newsroom “Unbias the News” aim to create more inclusive spaces of reporting.
To equip students and practitioners with not only an overview of the aforementioned challenges, but also with an idea of possible solutions, the team of the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism (EBI) has developed five modules, each of them designed to be completed in about one and a half to two hours. All modules are freely available on the NEWSREEL2 project website. The materials are intended to not only serve university-based journalism education or other journalism training courses, but also to support journalists – whether complete newcomers or more advanced – who wish to educate themselves in covering international issues.
The first module introduces key terms of international relations as well as issues and challenges in contemporary geopolitics from a cosmopolitan perspective, followed by a discussion of what globalization actually means. The second module presents definitions of foreign reporting, alongside the most common job descriptions in gathering international news, from permanent correspondent or parachutist to fixer. It includes a critical discussion of the journalist-fixer relationship. The third module dives deep into the debate about global news flows and geographies of news: Why do some countries receive the lion’s share of international coverage, whereas others are only punctually or even never covered? Students are being taken back to the historical roots of the global news flows debate in the Cold War era and learn about more recent findings from empirical studies. The fourth module is dedicated to the discussion on the contents of foreign coverage, i.e., the topics covered, and tonality commonly applied. It includes a section on war and conflict reporting as one particularly relevant and ethically sensitive issue in international reporting. The fifth and final module summarizes the criticism, challenges, and shortcomings unfolded in the previous modules, while pointing towards possible solutions. Cross-border collaborative journalism, global journalism and transnational news media are being discussed as means to tackle the shortcomings of foreign coverage.
Even though the course has a rather theoretical stance nourished by academic research, it intends to cover relevant professional debates. Insights and advice from practitioners interviewed in an initial stage of the project helped to decide on the contents of the course. In terms of didactics, the course does not present easy solutions or simple textbook knowledge. Rather, it aims at stipulating critical thinking by reflecting on differing views, definitions, and seemingly contradictory findings. Most modules complement self-examination methods such as multiple-choice quizzes with more reflective “food for thought” questions. The e-learning modules have been piloted in a seminar at the Institute of Journalism at TU Dortmund University in summer semester 2023.
As for the other eight fields of journalism covered in the NEWSREEL-2 project, accompanying materials such as a teaching guide aiming to support trainers using the e-learning course, a model class syllabus for university education, and a glossary with crucial terms are available as well.
The article was written by Dominik Speck (Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism)