Reporting from abroad

“Foreign correspondence is the best type of journalism,” said Martin Regg Cohn, the Toronto Star’s editorial page editor, at a panel discussion entitled “Danger, Disaster and Deadlines.”

The discussion, hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Canadian International Council (CIC), featured moderator and Maclean’s blogger Paul Wells and three other journalists sharing their reasons and experiences of reporting from abroad.

“Once you’re out here it’s like you’re in a different world altogether,” expressed Bill Graveland, Canadian Press foreign correspondent currently reporting in Afghanistan. Graveland utilized Skype to participate in the beginning portion of the discussion.

Graveland noted the difficulties in maintaining public interest in world issues, particularly in highly covered regions such as Afghanistan.

“The key is finding stories that are going to get their attention,” he said, adding that often the most unique and personal stories are best received.

Nahlah Ayed, correspondent for CBC-TV, echoed this method of reporting. “To understand a region you have to cover the conflicts, but you have to cover the little stories too,” she said.

The panel went on to discuss how the role of a foreign reporter has changed with technological advancements.

“What’s changed is that we’re doing a lot more with a lot less,” explained Ayed.

Although the Internet has allowed for stories to reach the public instantly, it has also created the added pressure of producing stories more frequently, leading to less original and investigative material.

The challenges of competing with citizen journalists– or the “twitterati” as Cohn called them– were also discussed.

“More often than not it’s not a representative picture of what’s happening,” said Patrick Martin, Middle East bureau chief for the Globe and Mail.

The panelists agreed that although citizen journalists provided insight into areas that may not be accessible, the information they provide is not necessarily reliable and provides only a small portion of a story.

“Nothing is going to replace that person the news organizations have put in the field,” Martin added.

The panel argued that the information journalists provide involves more research than blogs or twitter posts to ensure that their stories are accurate.

“What I think a newspaper tries to do… is give people more context and more analysis,” explained Cohn.

Despite the rapid exchange of information online, Cohn expressed the role of journalists and particularly print journalists, “to give our readers a sense that you are there.”

With media companies struggling to remain financially stable, concerns were raised regarding the future of foreign reporting.

“I don’t know how long it will last,” Cohn stated, listing the international bureaus that were shut down or downsized in recent years, specifically that of the Toronto Star.

The panel did convey the importance in having Canadian reporters present stories and information in a manner that creates relevance for the Canadian audience.

“It’s the Canadian conversation that makes the job necessary,” concluded Wells.