from Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary Event

’Begin With the Young Generation’ to Sustain Future Foreign Correspondence

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 Jaime FlorCruz talks about her work on a 24-hour cable news network and presents ideas on dealing with the evolving "consumption patterns" of foreign news. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.

October 15, 2009

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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 Jaime FlorCruz talks about her work on a 24-hour cable news network and presents ideas on dealing with the evolving "consumption patterns" of foreign news. 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.

It is hard to pick one story with the load of reports that we do day in, day out for our 24-hour cable network.  One recent story that sticks out is our coverage of the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. Our coverage captured the human drama that unfolded for days as the Chinese bravely coped with the aftermath of the huge quake. More important, we hightlighted the heroism of the victims, their relatives and the countless rescue workers and volunteers--stories of grit, courage, and civic-mindedness. We’d like to think that our extensive coverage in part helped galvanize international sympathy, support and aid for the Chinese.

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.

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Another earlier theme that we’ve proudly done is our coverage of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China’s rural areas. We are most proud of our stories on the orphans of farmers in Henan province, ground zero of the epidemic that spread among poor farmers who got contaminated with HIV/AIDS virus when they naively donated blood-for-cash.  Our stories helped lionize the brave whistle-blowers (doctors, NGO workers, village officials) and shame the culprits (corrupt and callous officials, greedy "blood sharks"). They also prompted the Beijing officialdom to take action in containing the spread of the epidemic. Soon after stories on this theme came out, the Chinese government started to acknowledge the AIDS crisis. Government agencies have been providing treatment for many victims, albeit still limited. NGOs have been allowed to provide care for the AIDS orphans and, just as important, senior government officials have publicly met and shook hands with HIV/AIDS victims--removing the stigma that is often associated with the disease.  Why conceive this story? Because we wanted the whistle-blowers, who were being muzzled, to be heard in and outside China. Because we wanted to give voice to the marginalized victims and their offsprings. Because we wanted to give hope to the countless others who are living with HIV/AIDS "in the closet" because to the stigma that still persists.  I’m proud of our coverage because it has prompted at least one viewer overseas to offer a modest donation to some of the AIDS orphans. We helped course the donation to one of the NGOs active in that front.

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?

That’s the million dollar question. Can we sustain it? Pessimists do not think so. They note the dumbing down of the media, the narrow focus on local news, on car chase and celebrity news. Some blame it on the consumers ("that’s what our audience and readers want, based on focus-group research!") Others point the finger at the corporate honchos and bean-counters who only care about the bottom line, imposing layoffs and cutbacks at the expense of the quality and breadth of international reporting.  I remain cautiously optimistic that there is still demand for serious international reporting. But the delivery systems for that news is changing, just as the "consumption patterns" are also evolving. As journalists, we need to be more skillful and nimble at consistently providing good-quality reporting. As gate-keepers, editors must calibrate an appropriate balance of local and international news. As managers, publishers and business managers must find viable business models that adapt to the new landscape and new consumers to enable the media organizations to survive and flourish. Most important, we must begin with the young generation. We must inculcate on them the mantra that international news is important because, for good or ill, they could impact their lives where ever they may be.

 

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