The Hubris of Journalists

18 Jan

Nick Bryant, a correspondent covering Australian elections for the BBC, wrote the following in one of his blog posts,

“My name is Nick and I fear I am in danger of becoming an Australian political junkie. I find myself boring friends with the swings needed to win obscure marginals, which, up until six weeks ago, I never knew existed. My mind is cluttered with useless information, like how the South Australian seat of Makin is named after a post-war Australian ambassador to Washington.

Had you asked me 18 months ago, I would have hazarded a guess that Eden-Monaro was a type of Dutch cheese. Now I can quote the land mass of this all-important bellwether seat.”

While Nick Bryant did a reasonable job of reporting on the Australian elections, it is debatable whether journalists can start filing in-depth analytically rich reports on a country days after landing in a country about which they know next to nothing.

Another reporter, Kevin Connolly, from the BBC – this time covering the US elections wrote,

“On your first days in a new assignment as a reporter, you work hard – sometimes a little too hard – to look for clues that will help you to decode life in your new adopted home.

When we changed planes in Chicago midway through my never-ending New Year’s Eve, I found myself lingering in the self-help section of the bookstore, puzzled by the sort of advice for which Americans are prepared to pay. I now own copies of God Wants You To Be Rich and You’re Broke Because You Want to Be. “

There is a danger that journalists new to the country will weigh idiosyncratic details about the country they notice disproportionately in their analysis and reporting.

Good reporting is seen as a tough-minded commitment to pursuing the truth. It is seen as a skill that surpasses bounds of geography and culture. And certainly, there are elements of it that remain constant throughout. However, lack of a deeper understanding of the country, and culture can severely jeopardize not only “ability to contextualize events and issues, but also “objective” elements of reporting. The ability to contextualize is of particular importance for the apathetic ill-informed home country readership.

The foreign reporting standards have dropped precipitously as the length of foreign tours has dropped precipitously over the last many years to now average between one and three years. Reports from foreign journalists nowadays often take the quality of a tourist blog with substandard reports about preconceived notions that need validation. In this age of the Internet, I am in fact unsure of the need for foreign journalists. Liaisons with prominent news organizations within the country should be pursued to produce reports.

While the problem of under-qualified reporters is the most prominent in foreign reporting, it is not limited to it. Greenhorns reporting on politics often times carry the open-eyed celebrity wonderment about the political figures they report on.