Through Their Eyes

Through Their Eyes: Foreign Correspondents in the United States

Stephen Hess
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 195
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  • Book Info
    Through Their Eyes
    Book Description:

    Americans often forget that, just as they watch the world through U.S. media, they are also being watched. Foreign correspondents based in the United States report news and provide context to events that are often unfamiliar or confusing to their readers back home. Unfortunately, there has been too little thoughtful examination of the foreign press in America and its role in the world media. Through Their Eyes fills this void in the unmistakable voice of Stephen Hess, who has been reporting on reporting for over a quarter century. Globalization is shrinking the planet, making it more important than ever to know what is going on in the world and how those events are being interpreted elsewhere. September 11 was a chilling reminder that how others perceive us does matter, like it or not. Hess seeks to answer three basic yet essential journalistic questions: Who are these U.S.-based foreign correspondents? How do they operate? And perhaps most important, what do they report, and how? Informed by scores of interviews and armed with original survey research, Hess reveals the mindset of foreign correspondents from a broad sample of countries. He examines how reporting from abroad has changed over the past twenty years and addresses the daunting challenges facing these journalists, ranging from home-office politics to national stereotypes. Unique among works on the subject, this book provides an engaging and humanizing "Day in the Life…" section, illustrating how foreign correspondents conduct their daily activities. This book continues the author's comprehensive Newswork series on the nexus of media, government, and politics. These five books, starting with The Washington Reporters (Brookings, 1981), have become valuable reference materials for all who seek to understand this intersection of journalism and government. Through Their Eyes furthers that rich tradition, making it essential and enjoyable reading.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-3582-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Steve Hess’s work on the interaction between the press and the government is a signature Brookings product. As a former reporter myself and a long-time admirer of Steve’s work, I’m proud to be associated with this, the sixth volume in the Newswork series, which began in 1981 with the publication ofThe Washington Reporters. My predecessor Bruce MacLaury began his foreword to that volume with these words:

    “In the vast literature about how Americans govern themselves, the role of the press is often neglected. Yet the press—no less than the presidency, the judiciary, and the legislature—is a public...

  4. Guide The nature of this study and where it fits in the Newswork series
    (pp. 1-9)

    In 1977, shortly after Jimmy Carter became president, I made a wish list of three books that I wanted to write, a trilogy to be called Newswork. The first volume would be a study of reporters who cover the U.S. government for domestic news organizations and of how they organize themselves to do their work. The second volume would cross the aisle to examine how the government conducts its own press operations. The final volume would focus on foreign correspondents in the United States. I hoped that together these books might begin to define the unique web of relationships that...

  5. Context What may or may not appear in the world’s media
    (pp. 10-18)

    Anthony Shadid, theWashington Postreporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his human interest stories from Baghdad, said, in defining foreign correspondence: “It’s the freedom to go to a foreign place, try to understand the situation, and tell the story with a critical, sympathetic eye.”¹ Between his fine definition and reality exists a variety of obstacles relating to a world of press systems, styles, and standards that often are very different from those in the United States.

    This chapter reviews the context within which foreign correspondents in the United States do their work. There is a vast...

  6. Then What we know about foreign correspondents in America, 1955–88
    (pp. 19-26)

    The 111 responses to a questionnaire that graduate student Donald A. Lambert mailed to 250 foreign correspondents in the United States in 1955 provide a benchmark against which later surveys can be compared. His survey documented a group of predominantly male (there were only six women), well-educated (fifteen had doctoral degrees), experienced journalists in their mid-forties who did mostly interpretive reporting. They mailed more than half of their articles back to the home office and sent another 27 percent by cable. They seemed to like Americans. When the correspondents were asked to check the adjectives that they considered most descriptive,...


    • Patterns Some findings, 1999–2003
      (pp. 29-42)

      The foreign press corps in the United States experienced a growth spurt in the second half of the twentieth century, from 616 correspondents in 1964 to more than three times that number in 2000, according to theEditor and Publisher International Year Book.¹ The biggest increase was in the number of reporters from Asia, whose share of the press corps rose from 17 to 27 percent. But all regions gained, even underrepresented Africa, whose contingent increased from seven to thirty-three correspondents. Yet Western Europe, with 47 percent, still dominated. Growth was especially robust in the 1990–2000 period, when, ironically,...

    • Irregulars The other foreign correspondents
      (pp. 43-49)

      When in 1999 we surveyed all those whose names appeared on various lists of foreign correspondents in the United States, our analysis showed that 20 percent—one in five—were not full-time journalists. These were the irregulars. “Irregular” is a word with multiple associations—an irregular shape, an irregular verb, an irregular shirt—used here in the old-fashioned military sense: the irregulars are the troops who belong to no organized military force.

      To simply call them part-timers is to suggest that they are just like traditional foreign correspondents, except that they work less. Some do fit that description. Having reported...

    • Hollywood A subject the world loves
      (pp. 50-55)

      “Israel has an insatiable appetite for Hollywood stories,” said Tom Tugend, a Los Angeles stringer for theJerusalem Post,when we interviewed him in 1999. So, apparently, do Brazil, Australia, and Senegal. Danielle Machado Duran, a freelancer in New York, reported that a Brazilian magazine had just requested an article on the movieThe Blair Witch Project.Mark Riley, of theSydney Morning Herald,had just returned to New York from Los Angeles, where he was covering the Academy Awards. Aly K. Ndaw was doing an article, “Black Americans in the Cinema,” for a Senegalese newspaper. “I love movies,” he...

    • In America It’s not like being in any other country
      (pp. 56-66)

      “I think one of the extraordinary things about being here is periodically getting these feelings of déjà vu as you see streetscapes or squares, and you suddenly think, ‘I’ve been here before,’ and you realize that it was in a movie,” said Patrick Smyth, Washington correspondent for theIrish Times.¹ “Growing up in South Africa, coming here,” said Pierre Steyn, also in Washington, “it was like there was nothing strange about this place, ‘cause you can see it on television.”²

      No one comes to the United States without preconceptions. Of course, many respondents to our survey had already spent time...


    • Time Adjusting to deadlines around the world
      (pp. 69-76)

      What distinguishes most foreign correspondents from most other journalists is that often they are separated from their editors and audience by several time zones. Those who work in New York or Washington usually are six hours behind Europe and twelve to fourteen hours ahead of Asia. “The time difference is the hardest part,” Dubravka Savic ofBelgrade Dailytold us. “I’m always running after time and never reaching it.”¹

      The most obvious consequence of reporting on breaking news for a distant organization is that the workday becomes very long. “I love to work in this country,” said Rujun Wang, of...

    • Contact Whereby the home office gains on correspondents
      (pp. 77-82)

      Contact between foreign correspondents and their home offices has expanded at a dizzying pace. “The CNN effect” was followed by something that could be called “the Google effect.” Besides the quick and cheaper technology that has made interaction between distant reporters and editors possible and affordable, there is now so much more information, instantly available, that has to be weighed for its news value.

      Quite suddenly the world of Korean television correspondent Chang Choi and his colleagues in Washington looked less comfortable. According to what Choi told us in 2002,

      The previous correspondents, before CNN was dominant in the world,...

    • Access Who sees whom, when, and why
      (pp. 83-93)

      Among our full-time correspondents, a substantial number—62 percent—complained that they had problems reaching sources because they represented non-U.S. news organizations. Many years ago, when Albert Hunt, then of theWall Street Journal,was asked why Washington reporters always seemed to be complaining, he replied, “We complain because we are quasicreative people.”¹ But overall, the foreign correspondents that we interviewed were not notable complainers. Annette Moll probably reflected the feelings of the majority when she recalled being asked to cover Washington for German Public Radio:

      They offered me the contract and really it was, “Wow! [I can’t believe that]...

    • Help Foreign correspondents as clients of the U.S. government
      (pp. 94-100)

      “The most valuable help I got from them was probably when they put me in contact with prison staff who could arrange interviews with convicted murderers for a series on violent crime, something that would have been virtually impossible on my own as a foreign journalist,” recalled Gunilla Faringer, a reporter for Swedish newspapers in New York.¹

      The “they” that she remembered were the men and women who work for the Foreign Press Center, a tiny unit of the U.S. State Department with offices located in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. Seven people work in the New York office...

    • Borrowed News and the Internet Where correspondents turn for information
      (pp. 101-106)

      The connection between reporters and their home offices was not the only aspect of foreign correspondence that was being profoundly changed by the Internet. “Online [access to information] has revolutionized the speed and breadth of research,” noted the BBC’s Philippa Thomas.¹

      Journalists are great consumers of journalism, hence the term “borrowed news.” Most of the Washington reporters we surveyed in the late 1970s read four newspapers a day, and our foreign correspondents in the late 1990s averaged the same number. But newspaper consumption for foreign correspondents is much more important, especially if they do not speak the language well or...


    • One Day The stories and the categories that they fit in
      (pp. 109-119)

      We sought answers to the questions of who foreign correspondents are and how they report from the United States, but another question remained: what do they report? Each day produces hundreds of thousands of words in scores of languages. Gathering and translating them would be no small task.

      Some U.S. government agencies—the CIA, the State Department—create daily transcripts of reports in the world media, but those transcripts are too selective to answer our question. Do Washington embassies retain and translate their country’s newspapers and magazines? No such luck. Much of the world’s media have websites, but they are...

    • Now What we know about foreign correspondents in America, the present
      (pp. 120-130)

      When our story began in 1955, foreign correspondence often appeared to be defined by an elegant web of special relationships between America’s economic and governmental elites in New York and Washington and a coterie of well-bred Western European journalists: Marino de Medici, whose ancestors had their portraits done by Botticelli, from Rome’sIl Tempo;Herbert von Borch, of Munich’sSuddeutsche Zeitung;Werner Imhoof, the intellectuals’ favorite, fromNeue Zurcher Zeitung;Adalbert de Segonzac, Ziggy to his friends, reporting forFrance Soir;the urbane Alistair Cooke, explaining the meaning of “TV dinner” to his BBC listeners; and Henry Brandon, of the...


    • APPENDIX A: Foreign Correspondents in the United States, by Place of Origin, 1964–2000
      (pp. 131-133)
    • APPENDIX B: Survey Questionnaire and Illustrative Responses
      (pp. 134-155)
    • APPENDIX C: Respondents, Surveys, and Interviews
      (pp. 156-164)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-178)
  12. Thanks
    (pp. 179-182)
  13. Index
    (pp. 183-195)