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 Clifford Krauss considers the future of international journalism and recalls the "critical" year he spent at the Council on Foreign Relations. 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.
No question, the most impactful story I ever covered were the wars in Central America during the late 1970s and 1980s. The fall of Somoza, the Sandinista revolution and Contra counter-revolution, and the revolutions and U.S. policy in El Salvador and Guatemala were dramatic events that brought an otherwise remote part of the world into focus for Americans and the world. It was a challenging story for many of us young reporters because we carried lessons and baggage from the Vietnam era. Some were pertinent to this story, while others were not, and we had to sort it out. The Cold War loomed large, of course, with Cuban and even Soviet bloc involvement. But there were also crying human needs and suffering that needed to be addressed, and revolutionaries not particularly sympathetic to American interests (to put it mildly) sometimes appeared to be the only ones eager to address them. In the end, good reporting was needed to break through the simplistic perceptions of both left and right. I was attracted to Central America at first because of my own Vietnam experience as a high school and college student, and I left with a much more nuanced view of the world. As for Central America, it’s still a mess, but the foreign correspondents are essentially gone.
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.
Covering the fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, the collapse of the Argentine economy, the reawakening of democracy in Peru with the fall of Fujimori, Chile’s election of the first Socialist since Salvador Allende, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada, on and on. So many stories of such importance.
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?
I wish I had a good answer. I remember back in the 1980s when big foreign stories (aside from U.S. invasions) attracted scores of news organizations. When I recently traveled to Antigua when the Stanford scandal broke, there were just a few reporters from the wires, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and that’s about it. I was struck by how we are not covering the world nearly as well as before. Perhaps the only way serious international reporting can be sustained is for the media to reinvent its business model to somehow make profits in the internet world. Blogs will not die. However, on the bright side, we got a lot of good information from citizens in Iran during the latest upheaval that would never have been available before, but now is in this new technology revolution. People are getting their own stories out now in ways that were impossible before. But that does not, of course, replace professional journalists going out in the field. I have to be optimistic though. Foreign affairs have never been a more crucial part of the news diet. As long as there is a need, we need to find a way to satisfy it.
Let me just add a sentiment that I am certain the vast majority of my fellow Murrow fellows share. There are precious few opportunities for journalists to take time out from our hectic profession to contemplate and learn such a broad range of issues. I wish I could clone that Murrow year again, and do it all over. The year also was critical for me to write a book. So I toast this wonderful institution, and I hope the Murrow fellowship will last and last.