Despite significant technology advancements, foreign correspondents remain the best way of getting accurate, impactful news from overseas. Giovanna Dell’Orto, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, recently interviewed 61 of them for a new book and shared her insights with us.
While this blog often focuses on the advancement of technology and how it impacts media, we should also note that the core practices of journalism remain key to reporting the news. How reporters share stories or engage readers might change, but they will always be seeking to find and tell the truth.
This is especially true for foreign correspondents, who remain our best way of getting accurate, impactful news from overseas.
“It’s easy to become cynical about it,” said Giovanna Dell’Orto, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “And one of the things I’ve marveled about is how correspondents don’t seem to have done that, don’t seem to have caved in to what is evidence of public apathy.”
So to raise awareness of their work, Dell’Orto wrote a book, “AP Foreign Correspondents in Action: World War II to the Present,” based on interviews with 61 AP journalists who together have 1,710 years of experience abroad.
In their stories to her, the correspondents often described circumstances that put their lives in danger.
No one knows that reality better than Kathy Gannon, an AP journalist who was covering Afghanistan’s elections in 2014 when a gunman fired multiple shots into the car she was sitting in. She survived, but her colleague, Anja Niedringhaus, did not.
“Reporting is an uphill battle,” Dell’Orto said at AP headquarters, with Gannon at her side. “I hope that readers will see this book, because if they do, maybe they will appreciate a little bit more of the effort that went behind the news.”
In addition to overcoming the possibility of physical harm with an itch to wage a fight against obstruction, the correspondents Dell’Orto spoke with possessed two additional traits – a feeling that reporting is a mission to tell stories that would not otherwise be told, and a sense of humbleness.
She shared the story of Max Desfor, who won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of refugees crawling over a destroyed Pyongyang bridge to flee the advancing North Korean army. Then there was Eric Talmadge, who asked himself why he was reporting after the 2011 tsunami in Japan when the ground started shaking as the Fukushima power station melted down.
“It was the only way to tell what’s going on, not to journalists, but to people on the ground,” he told Dell’Orto. “And hopefully, by laying out what the problem was, people could focus more effort on dealing with it.”
While we’ve all gotten swept up in a world that can seem to value analytics over ethics, it’s important to remember that the opinion of the broader public isn’t the end-all, be-all.
“If you get the story,” Dell’Orto said, “if you give a voice to the voiceless, then maybe somewhere, somebody is going to care enough to want to change the world and make it a better place.”
Jake is the text and multimedia product manager at The Associated Press and the former editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for AP and helped design its multi-year strategic plan.