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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Foreign Correspondent: Myth & Reality

Few jobs in the world have been subjected to as much mythology and stereotyping as that of the foreign correspondent.

Scenes of the gallant foreign correspondent, dressed in requisite trench coat, running off to cover war and other forms of mayhem in far away places is the stuff of legend and Hollywood embellishment.

For example, if Hollywood is to be believed, foreign correspondents are tough, resourceful and have amazing stamina. They can bang out a story in a battle zone even as they drink rot gut vodka and woo a beautiful woman (or handsome guy in this era of gender equity).

Foreign correspondents are all knowing, charming, sensitive, always good-looking and most of all courageous and bold. They’ll take any risk to get the story and amazingly, they never get hurt or killed.

Foreign correspondents know how to get information anywhere anytime. They are audacious and cunning. They will break into a dictator’s mansion, trek through jungles with guerillas, invade a general’s bunker, consort with smugglers, pirates and a broad assortment of other scoundrels and still be invited to have dinner with the Prime Minister, President or the Ambassador.

Sound familiar?

In fact, some of that hyperbole is not far from the truth. Foreign correspondents do take chances and often find themselves in harm’s way, but (alas) they aren’t always good-looking and they do get hurt and sometimes killed.

In this blog we will examine both the myths and the realities of this most demanding of journalism’s jobs—a job I did for about 17 years of my career with the Chicago Tribune in Asia and Latin America. In essence, we will embark on a search.

It is a search that will take us back in time to the so-called “Golden Age” of foreign correspondence and then to the high-tech world of today’s correspondent.

Part of that search begins with a collection of selected reports and stories by real correspondents as well as criticisms and reminiscences that should strip away some of the myths. We will look at how both U.S. and international media cover the world in terms of both quantity and quality.

It will be a fascinating journey of discovery led by someone with firsthand experience and knowledge.
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