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Competent Foreign Reporting Comes at a High Price

Interviewee: Mort Rosenblum, 1976-1977 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow
October 15, 2009

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As part of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary initiative current and former fellows discuss the stories that have had the most impact and present ideas for sustaining serious international journalism. Former fellow Mort Rosenblum points out that "distant guesswork costs nothing," but competent foreign reporting comes at a high price. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.

What is one international story or topic (of your own reporting) that you believe had the greatest impact and why? Explain why you chose to report it.

In 2000, I started a five-part AP series on water, from Palm Desert and Mexico to Europe, the Middle Asia, and Asia. A New Mexican activist told me, "You think, ‘Isn't someone supposed to be watching all this?'" But everywhere people echoed a California expert: "Nobody is looking out. The stakeholders want what they want. No political leader is willing to go out on a limb and make some people very unhappy. No one wants to deal with tying growth to resources. They just squeeze out more." The series at least helped get people talking, and I'm told it is still making a policy impact in some places.

Is there another story or topic, perhaps one that is not already widely cited, that comes to mind that you believe has had a significant impact? This can be a story reported by you or someone else. Tell us about it.

An American embassy source in Buenos Aires, cultivated over time, had a fit of conscience in 1973 and told me how Washington condoned not only widespread torture by the Argentine military and police but also the routine disposal of live prisoners: they were dumped in the ocean. With corroborating Argentine sources, it was the first clear link between the military and police to mysterious en-masse disappearances of suspected terrorists. After AP carried my first stories, others added much more and kept on digging.

Do you have any ideas--whether yours or someone else's--for how the news industry can sustain serious international reporting at a time of great upheaval in the media?

We must explain, convincingly and consistently, why real foreign news can't be had for free. Distant guesswork costs nothing. But keeping competent, seasoned reporters abroad and getting them close to stories they cover comes at a high price, whatever the delivery mode. Depending on ads or philanthropy leaves too much to vagaries. Resources are being cut back sharply at crunch times when we need them most. We pay for our own lunch and our electricity supply. Reliable news across borders is no less essential.

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