Does the world need International News Reporters?
It’s Tuesday, the 26th April 1994, the eve of South Africa’s historic first all- race election and in downtown Johannesburg a bomb has been detonated. I was working as an Associate Producer for ABC News and was not due in work until later, but I was also reporting for sections in the BBC World Service.
The bomb shook our house a mile and some away. I made it quickly onto the scene, showing my pass to get pass cordons and with friends Barry Sandland and Richard Adeshiyan, The Voice Newspaper editor, began to take stock.
This is my report that follows.
2022, does the world need International News Reporters? It’s one of the questions we’ve (group and I) contemplated over the last three months, threaded by a curated insight into several themes. Those themes ranged from Ethics; News, Power and Democracy; Globalisation and Diversity; and the impact of technology.
The spectrum of international reports in climate disaster, Covid-19, wars e.g. Ukraine across regions this year, and the epochal report of January 6th’s inside the capitol by ITN’s Robert Moore and his team provide, perhaps, an unequivocal answer. Yet two years ago, one of the biggest stories caught on camera, George Floyd’s murder came from a mobile phone of a citizen, not a journalist.
The response to this seemingly simple question can be articulated via the written word, or an exchange, critical, perhaps to securing a job. For the simplicity of the question belies a potency in how to critically dismantle what it means, and to whom?
The Economist asked in a recent essay competition for 18–25 years old :
“What fundamental economic and political change, if any, is needed for an effective response to climate change?”
Several years ago, when it asked “What is Nature?”, I was one of the reviewers, mesmerised by the complex and undulating arguments that crossed my screen.
Do we need International Reporters? How are International News Reporters using new technology and innovation? What are the challenges for International News Reporters covering nationalism and populism ? How are International News Reporters covering the environment
These sample some of the pressing questions that face a medium, a profession, which has birthed and refined its practice since the late 1800s.
We’ve had a range of voices contribute to its understanding, such as the UK’s exciting and youngest International news reporter and Motassem, an old hand talking to us from Gazza.
International reporting can be traced further back beyond the work of William Russell, yet these proto international reporting in the guise of travel writers such as Henry Morton Stanley and Richard Hakluyt held overtly racists views in shaping the modern world. You can read more about this in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by historian Ibram X. Kendi
Undoubtedly, there are more questions to be asked, but over those years from the 1800s, greater public awareness, societal and cultural changes, external impacts in technology, and economics and political systems forced international journalism practice to reflect, naval gaze and deliver new strategies going forward.
The answers, if there are any clear cut ones, exist in conventions of past knowledge and the flight of new findings and arguments. It’s a loaded question, too big in fact to be answered in the discursive way journalistic flare in a 1500-worded article attempts, so it pays to pick a target which the writer may hope the reader believes is allegorical. And then within that framework tease, cut, critique, appraise, reflect on a line of attack.
Questions of this nature are in essence an exercise in performance and rhetoric. How much do you know? How do you demonstrate this? And do you recognise ( an act of humility) your own limitations.
Izzy Garbutt (MYP) from Wigan, a member of the British Youth Parliament, delivered an address that puts into perspective academic pursuit “is-this-stuff- I’m-learning-of-any -use-outside” against soft hard skills required for future careers.
She’s right. I concur with her argument as a grad student of Chemistry and Maths trying to make sense of what I might become. I also recognise a student seeking to become an engineer may believe quadratic equations and the rest are the foundational bedrock for getting a human to the moon, as depicted in this gripping scene from Hidden Figures
Some of the soft skills Izzy alludes too were part of our practice over three months. How to address someone in person and email for an efficient response; how to use the wisdom of crowds as a collaborative mode of problem solving, and this a soft-skill which crystallises into a critical skill — how to use evidence to build an argument rather than opinion to posit an answer.
Heavens knows the world on social media could do with more evidentiary exchanges. The kind too where that evidence is tested in a peer-to-peer environment that starts with according to…, or [expert] says (qualify why). These ought to be front and centre of our debates. In David Epstein’s highly readable book Range, he presents an interesting find, based on the work of Professor Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting. The world can be divided into Hedgehogs and Foxes, he says.
Where hedgehogs represented narrowness, foxes range outside a single discipline and or theory embodied breath.
He goes on
Incredibly the hedgehogs performed especially poorly on long term predictions within their domain of expertise. They actually got worse as they accumulated experience and credentials in their field
Tetlock was specifically looking at how well hedgehogs could predict the future. The answer was poorly, but they had an overriding ace over foxes. It was their ability to talk on anything through their prism of knowledge, and as such it made them great TV material. In today’s parlance it might make them the loudest on Twitter.
In effect people are a mixture of foxes and hedgehogs, they change, and no simple test can determine whether you’re fixed. Yet for the meantime we need experts. Just be careful about asking them for predictions.
Back to the question: “Does the world need International News Reporters?”. It pays first to understand what is meant by an international news reporter or foreign news reporter. I’m less drawn to the latter labelling because of its connotation as “foreign”. There are a myriad definitions, but here I’m helped out by my old friend, the BBC’s former Africa correspondent and head of the India Bureau, Milton Nkosi. He speaks of the finely attuned expertise they develop in their field.
Milton provides an overarching definition of an international news reporter.
Similarly in answering this question, it’s necessary to read Prof Richard Sambrook’s research, because a) it directly addresses the question, originally written some ten years ago, and b) Prof Sambrook was a senior executive at the BBC.
Once framed, my target this week is journalistic style. It could be many others.
Less window dressing or a fashionable statement, according to Emeritus Professor David Bordwell, an expert on the moving image
Style is the tangible texture of the film, the perceptual surface we encounter as we watch and listen, and that surface is our point of departure in moving to plot, theme, feeling — everything else that matters to use.
Style frames a film and how it may be received. When it comes to news production and international news production, the mode of choice rests with something called the News Package. The package became a truncated style off the back of documentary and literary news form that would shape how the audience received news films.
It’s worked, but it’s also had its critics, such as the late Robert Drew. It’s been reformed within the BBC in the 1990s via its Director General John Birt, when he urged the mission to explain.
If you’ve grown up on the news package, it’s likely you see no fault in its structure, notwithstanding the journalist’s competence. The package is as significant to News as the heroes’ journey is to cinema.
But by the mid 2000s cracks began to appear. Not all stories warranted 2.20 minutes, greater diversity was required, a presumption of a lack of knowledge in the audience was being recognised.
The style of journalism required a new look. The then head of ITN News, now the CEO of BBC News, Deborah Turness, recognised this.
In the last decade a myriad of styles have emerged, some more successful than others. The include new forms of videojournalism, the influence of mobile phones storytelling, the impact of social media, and the emergence of podcasts etc.
They matter now more so than ever because attention is the currency that defines a platform’s raison d’être. Attention translates to advertisers, or commercial value to be harnessed.
If TikTok can command 1 billion plus users any media will have to take note. It matters too because the attention generation many media are targeting is younger audiences, Gen Z, who traditionally don’t watch TV in the way Baby boomers do.
It matters because just this week the BBC’s Tim Davie announced that in a decade the BBC would become an online only service. That web 3, AI and a host of new developments will reshape how information is reported.
Note, one of the things online has done has to encourage experimentation which would challenge the hegemony of traditional TV formats. BBC Ross Atkin’s explainer videos started online. It’s now transported to prime time TV. Vice.com started its innovative TV online, before it acquired a TV presence mainly for increased advertising, and more recently TikTok and its hyperstyle captured by CNN’s Max Foster is findings its way into a new news TV style format.
Yesterday he posted this.
This is all unsurprising if you consider the work of Media philosopher Marshall McLuhan and his famous aphorism The media is the message.
By that McLuhan was acknowledging that the medium through which information passes, say a report or film, has an indelible influence in shaping how it emerges. If you’re on TikTok, it’ll undoubtedly shape how you report. A two minute report with the standard PTC/ Stand-up from a journalistic exposition may not necessarily do well on TikTok.
Mobile journalism too has done much to change International Reportage, and reportage in general. It’s architects include Michael Rosenblum, RTE’s Phillip Bromwell and Glen Mulcahy.
Much of the style within mobile journalism emerged from solo videojournalism, hence many of its practitioners are former news makers and videojournalists. But that’s not to deny its prowess, economic viability
(everyone has a phone) and that as a tool for capturing its rigging formats are still being realised.
The last I’ll mention in style is one I’ve been tracking for almost twenty years from video journalism — cin (video) journalism to now Cinema journalism.
Like all the aforementioned formats it emerged in the online space as a voice challenging the status quo. Historian Ada Palmer documented in 7 Ways the Printing Press Changed the World says
“Whenever a new information technology comes along, and this includes the printing press, among the very first groups to be ‘loud’ in it are the people who were silenced in the earlier system, which means radical voices,” says Palmer.
It takes effort to adopt a new information technology, whether it’s the ham radio, an internet bulletin board, or Instagram. The people most willing to take risks and make the effort to be early adopters are those who had no voice before that technology existed
That’s the story of cinema journalism, which is a style of film making in which the filmmaker is agnostic of the tools and platform. Anything goes from mobile, drones, ai, google glass etc. All these work in service to the film being made.
You can find endless articles on my @medium page where I’m designated one of their leading writers in journalism or search the Net under Cinema journalism
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A report that pulls in material from early 2000 includes this one here Why cinema could influence online video journalism featured in Journalism.co.uk
In it you’ll find a harrowing report ( a warning) from the Sichuan province in China. In comparing the two, I often ask which report stays with you? Which one has affected you? You can try this yourself. Please leave a comment with your answer.
If that was many years back, and I’ve been amassing evidence since, which is part too of my PhD and training international journalists abroad recently I was able to share some time with the BBC’s leading award winning International news journalist Clive Myrie.
In our conversations it became clear that even if Myrie isn’t using the term, his audience, and the references he makes, and the reception of his film falls into this category. It’s immerseful viewing and it’s produced by an emotional intelligence — a less dispassionate approach to that adopted by other journalists. It involves crafting the film from a position where the filmmaker breaks from conventions, and uses the films material, events, to visually interpret and record for the audience.
There is no essence of cinema says Philosopher Noel Carroll. It has many forms, like art, it is almost unquantifiable, but audiences recognise it, as I found out when I presented my films at SXSW
Does the world need International News Reporters? This is where you come in. The experts believe they know what works, yet we’re entering new worlds of uncertainty in climate change and crisis reporting where international reporting isn’t landing with some audiences ( see Reuters report) like it should. News styles alone won’t cut it, if you can’t get the report in the first place. How several intersectional factors impact would warrant a book in itself. But I leave you with this thought, one that has often been dismissed but increasingly is being taken into account.
It was, and still is recognised that the professional of the journalist matters more that anything else, but is that entirely true. Representation often comes across as racial accounting.
The profession needs more Black, women, disabled, LGBTQ+ etc reporters not because we may be told it’s not a good look anymore, but perhaps because coming from a space, knowing that space gives you an insight that others may not have. I asked this question of Clive Myrie. Does it matter that Black journalists be deplored to report in America or in my case reporting from South Africa, when after knocking on so many doors there was little interest. Clive Myrie.
p.s. if you’re one of my students you’ll get the reference here