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Journalist Fellows' Papers

Is there anybody out there? Crisis and Collaboration in Foreign Reporting

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Simon Kruse Rasmussen, the Moscow correspondent for the Danish newspaper Berlingske, has written a hugely interesting and important study for anyone interested in the future of foreign reporting.

In his research paper, Is there anybody out there? Crisis and Collaboration in Foreign Reporting, Simon first concentrates on what has happened to foreign correspondents for the Danish media, but he then widens his study into a discussion of possible ways foreign reporting in general needs to develop. The results of a survey show that the number of foreign-based staff correspondents for the Danish media has declined by one-third, from 60 in 1998 to 39 in 2012. In the three largest general interest newspapers, the number has dropped from 35 to 22.

Since 1998, Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Eastern Europe have lost the presence of staff correspondents. This decline in staff has been accompanied by changes in the structure of foreign desks. The study identifies a shift from a fixed to a flexible structure. Foreign editors rely less on permanent foreign bureaus and more on freelancers, home-based reporters and ad-hoc bureaus. 

Moreover, increased emphasis is put on enriched content setting output apart from the online news stream. Correspondents are expected to guide news consumers and be brands, analysts and protagonists in news narration. Looking towards the future, Simon says that with current trends, online platforms of newspapers are not able to support anything like the current network of foreign correspondents. Barring the introduction of successful new online business model or increased public funding, the number of foreign correspondents - especially those employed by newspapers - is likely to continue declining. Simon is hopeful about what he calls Networks and niches, which he describes as ‘two dimensions along which alternative models of foreign reporting can be conceptualised’. He explains that the drive towards niches is a consequence of audience fragmentation. While specialised news operations within business and finance have been successful, the experience for general-interest foreign news is less promising. Identifying ways that high-value, low-reach content can be combined with low-value, high-reach journalism is a key challenge for foreign reporting entrepreneurs. Networked journalism focuses on ways to involve crowds and colleagues from other news organizations. 

Simon concludes that ‘cross-border cooperation between foreign reporters is required for journalism to keep pace with the internationalised nature of politics, business, environment and crime. Finding ways of pooling journalistic resources is one way of providing qualified foreign reporting at a time of relentless cost cutting at foreign desks’.

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.